Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t wrong when he said ‘football, bloody hell!’ But he certainly didn’t expect that phrase to be used against Manchester United all those years on from that historic treble.
The Red Devils left their hopes of salvaging any form of European knockout football for 2023-24 hanging by a thread as they let slip a 3-1 lead in Istanbul to draw 3-3 with Galatasaray.
In a game that would make defensive football fans shudder for the rest of time, United felt the full force of hell inside a very wet cauldron, despite racing into a 2-0 lead and making the perfect start.
Alejandro Garnacho quickly silenced the home side’s infamously hostile crowd with a shrewd finish after 11 minutes, before Bruno Fernandes unleashed a rocket seven minutes later to double the lead.
United were in cruise control – until they weren’t. Proceedings inevitably derailed and when a tame free-kick from Hakim Ziyech somehow beat a wrong-footed Andre Onana after half an hour, Gala pushed hard to turn the tie around.
An incredibly tight offside call spared United’s blushes heading into the break, where they recomposed themselves well before finding a third through Scott McTominay after 55 minutes, following a neat counter-attack.
Despite their tendency to collapse, Erik ten Hag’s side finally looked like they were managing the game towards victory. That was until yet another Ziyech free-kick caught Onana out, the Cameroon international spilling the ball into the back of the net on (another) very poor night at the office in the Champions League.
Suddenly, United looked like the team we’ve grown accustomed to – incapable of seeing out a game – and inevitably conceded a third with around 20 minutes to play.
Sloppy ball retention in their own half – not for the first time – saw United lose the ball, which Kerem Aktürkoğlu capitalised on by rifling a shot past Onana.
With six goals somehow bundled in at the expense of some truly shambolic defending, the chances kept coming at both ends as United pushed for a much-needed winner.
They were unable to find it, however, and now must beat Bayern Munich at home by at least two goals in their final group stage fixture – that’s if FC Copenhagen don’t beat Bayern Munich later on Wednesday night, which would confirm United’s exit from the Champions League.
Ten Hag was brutally honest in his post-match assessment, but tried to remain positive: “I blame myself if we go out. Know that we are in a project and we are improving.
“We are in the right direction. I know where we have to go, what steps to take and I’m sure we will be successful in the long term.”
United must take those steps extremely quickly to avoid further calamity.
On a terrible night that gave us a beautifully chaotic game of football, we’ve compiled a list of 11 stats that sum up exactly how outrageous a game it was for both sides.
– After defeat to FC Copenhagen and now Galatasaray, United have become only the second side to fail to win two separate matches where they held a 2+ goal lead in a single Champions League season (after Real Madrid in 2016-17).
– United have shipped the most goals they’ve ever conceded in a single Champions League group stage (14) and still have one game left to play – via @Squawka.
– Only Royal Antwerp (15) have currently conceded more goals in the Champions League than United this season.
– Galatasaray came from behind to avoid defeat in the Champions League for the second time this season. Before tonight, they had only done that twice in total in the history of the competition.
– The Red Devils have also now officially conceded the most goals of any English team five games into a Champions League campaign – via @OptaJoe.
– Hakim Ziyech became the third player on record (2003-04 onwards) to score two direct free-kick goals in a Champions League game, after Cristiano Ronaldo against Zürich in September 2009 and Neymar vs Crvena Zvezda in October 2018.
"What on earth is the Man Utd goalkeeper doing there?!" 😳
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) November 29, 2023
– United have conceded 33 goals in all competitions this season, the most in their opening 20 matches of any season since 1962-63 (43).
– At the same time, the Red Devils have also dropped more points from a winning position in the UCL than any other side this season (8).
– To add further insult to injury, they are the competition’s third-highest scorers so far in 2023-24, but sit fourth in their group.
– Andre Onana has made the most errors leading to goals in the Champions League (seven in 44 appearances) since 2018-19; Manuel Neuer is second with three from 41.
– On a slightly more positive note, only Vinícius Júnior (13) and Kevin De Bruyne (9) have more assists in the Champions League since 2021-22 than Bruno Fernandes (eight in 12 appearances), despite him not appearing in the competition last season – via @OptaJoe.