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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Manchester United's comeback win at Juventus evokes memories of Alex Ferguson era

The 2-1 win in Turin was the Premier League club's best away result in Europe since the great manager retired

Juventus 1 Manchester United 2. Nobody was expecting that scoreline.

Not when the draw was made, nor after the Italian champions had dominated United at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Not at half-time in Turin or when Cristiano Ronaldo’s 65th minute rocket put his side ahead.

United had done well to stay in the game against a team used to winning. Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young excelled in the United defence and stuck to their job – and, in Lindelof’s case, Ronaldo.

But United are no slouches in Turin. The club’s greatest ever performance saw them come from 2-0 down there to triumph and reach the Uefa Champions League final in 1999.

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Four years later, Alex Ferguson’s side won 3-0. And, on Wednesday night in the febrile cavity of the renovated Juventus Stadium, they made it three straight wins.

Not for nothing were the 2,000 travelling fans singing "Oh what a night" among other songs ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby, the third difficult away game in eight days, the first two of those 2-1 victories.

When Juan Mata’s free-kick curled over an unusually disorganised Juventus wall and past Wojciech Szczesny after 86 minutes, Massimiliano’s Allegri’s side were stunned. They had not conceded a single goal in the Champions League all season and bought Ronaldo to win the competition after twice being beaten finalists in the last four years.

Mata had been on the field six minutes, Marouanne Fellaini too, but they were inspired substitutions. Juventus were doubly stunned when United scored again three minutes later. Again, the goal came from a free-kick after Fellaini had pushed forward in attack and Anthony Martial had threatened.

Young took the free-kick from the left where there was a scrum of desperate Juventus players trying to keep it out. Paul Pogba and Alex Sandro tried to make contact but Leonardo Bonucci, the defender lavishly praised by Jose Mourinho after the first leg and who had set up Ronaldo’s volley in the second with a stunning ball, got the final unwanted touch for an own goal.

United’s players sprinted towards their manager in delight. This was the stuff dreams were made of, a goal which evoked memories of late, dramatic comebacks long associated with Ferguson’s indomitable sides.

The goal not only won the game, it transformed the group. United had faced the likely and awkward prospect of going to Valencia for their final group game next month and needing either to avoid defeat or win. Not now. Beat Young Boys at home later this month and United are as good as through.

Like most foes who go to Juventus, United had been outplayed, but they still played well enough to stay in the game as Rodrigo Betancur, a 21-year-old midfielder who cost only €9 million (Dh37.75m), impressed as much as he had at Old Trafford.

There has been more confidence and attacking intent about the team in recent weeks, looking at their best when their backs are to the wall and when they are underdogs with the vultures circling.

“I think it’s always good to be the outsider, so people expect bad of us and then we surprise people,” said Pogba afterwards. “The most important thing is the three points. It was great. We know that it’s a big team and, to be honest, when they scored a goal we had nothing to lose.

“We carried on, we pushed and we know that we can be dangerous on free-kicks because they defend very well. We played with that spirit and we scored two goals like this.”

Pogba didn’t excel, but he was well received at his former club on his return to Italy. United manager Mourinho also came back to the country where he’d shone at Juve’s rivals Inter Milan.

Goaded by the home fans throughout, he reacted at the end by surging on to the field and cupping his ear to the home supporters before being led off the field. He had put three fingers up to them at Old Trafford in reference to the treble he won at Inter. Although the Portuguese admitted that he probably should not have done that, most United fans were delighted that he did.

This was Juventus’ first defeat in a Champions League group stage at home since 2009, United’s finest result in Europe in the post-Ferguson era, though Ronaldo, a player from that time, claimed that “Manchester didn’t do that much in my opinion. We should have won the game easily, by three or four goals.”

Perhaps, but Bayern Munich were also the better side in the 1999 Champions League final and their name wasn’t engraved on the trophy.

And it was United’s smiling players who left Turin for the flight back to Manchester with three points as their fans mixed the United anthem "We’ll Never Die" with "Do, do, do, Marouanne Fellaini." It was one of those nights.