The Young Boys of Bern found an emphatic answer to the old boy of Old Trafford. If there was something inevitable in Cristiano Ronaldo scoring on his second European debut for Manchester United, the reckless Aaron Wan-Bissaka turned probable victory into a potentially damaging defeat.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the most famous injury-time goal of United’s history in the Champions League. Jordan Siebatcheu may have delivered perhaps the most memorable for Young Boys, latching on to Jesse Lingard’s dreadful back pass to condemn United to a shock setback.
Wan-Bissaka was the other major culprit, his first-half red card coming when United were leading. It provided a twist in the plot after what has seemed further proof of Ronaldo’s capacity to write his own scripts. Instead, Young Boys belied their status as the group’s minnows and United, who lost away to Istanbul Basaksehir and RB Leipzig last season, suffered another defeat on their travels.
They were wrote back long before Moumi Ngamaleu levelled. United changed shape and personnel with 10 men but could not halt David Wagner’s energetic, impressive side. They had 19 shots to United’s two. When he won four Champions Leagues with Real Madrid, Ronaldo did not endure too many evenings like this, losing to a team from a lesser league.
He was substituted with 20 minutes to go, an underwhelming exit, but his game had begun wonderfully. He had gone 12 years and 110 days since his previous European appearance for United but scored inside 13 minutes.
After two goals on his return to Old Trafford on Saturday, he struck on another comeback. In familiar fashion for Ronaldo, it was a landmark night. He equalled his former teammate Iker Casillas’ record of 177 Champions League appearances and extended his own record to 135 goals in the competition.
It was a strike made in Portugal. Bruno Fernandes’ pass was audacious and precise, delivered with the outside of his right foot. Ronaldo stole in behind the Young Boys defence and while David von Ballmoos got a hand to his shot, he could not stop it from trickling over the line.
Much had been made of how Fernandes and Ronaldo rarely combined for goals in their country’s colours, but they are starting to show a chemistry at club level. United’s finest moments involved the Portuguese pair.
Ronaldo had a second shot parried, with Fernandes again his supplier while the veteran claimed a penalty after running on to his compatriot’s spinning pass. Mohamed Camara escaped unpunished for a nudge.
The pivotal decision had come before then, and it was correct. Wan-Bissaka was dismissed for a dangerous lunge at Christopher Martins. It meant Jadon Sancho’s European debut for United was a brief affair, with the winger substituted so Diogo Dalot could come on.
Yet Young Boys had posed a threat even when United had a full complement of players. Meschak Elia dragged the game’s first shot wide after Sancho gave the ball away. They continued to attack. David De Gea saved well from Christian Fassnacht, parrying a shot that skimmed off the astroturf.
When they had a numerical advantage, they stepped up their assault. Fassnacht’s half-volley whistled just wide when he perhaps should have scored.
Despite a fine shift by Fred, United felt overrun in midfield. Donny van de Beek was a surprise starter, given he had only played five minutes in the Premier League and his stop-start United career got no better.
As they struggled to stem the tide, Van de Beek was replaced at half-time by United’s second serial Champions League winner: Raphael Varane was summoned to bring a little order in the middle of three centre-backs in a 5-3-1 formation.
But when David De Gea was booked for timewasting, it was a sign United were willing the final whistle. But long before it could come, pressure told and Elia’s low right-wing cross was touched in by the Cameroon international forward Ngamaleu. Then the replacement Siebatcheu delivered the 95th-minute decider.