Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 95th-minute winner in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday, marking his record-breaking 178th Champions League appearance.
With nearly the final kick of the game, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner blasted past Geronimo Rulli at the back post to relieve the increasing pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United were on the verge of yet another humiliating Champions League group stage exit after falling behind to Paco Alcacer’s clever finish early in the second half.
Alex Telles equalized shortly, but until Ronaldo’s late intervention, a sixth draw from open play in as many meetings between the teams looked likely.
Regardless of the outcome, the performance did little to assuage mounting doubts about Solskjaer’s ability to get the best out of a group of tremendously talented individuals who have yet to gel as a unit.
On Saturday, United were defeated 1-0 by Aston Villa thanks to a stoppage-time penalty that ended up in the Stretford End, but Solskjaer showed his support for the Portuguese midfielder by awarding him the captain’s armband in the absence of Harry Maguire.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended after being sent off in the 2-1 defeat against Young Boys on matchday one. Luke Shaw was also out due to injury.
He has started the season in fine form, and he was called upon to save his team once more midway through the first half when Alcacer’s header was turned over.
After an error from Raphael Varane, Alcacer blasted wide with just De Gea to beat, and then botched a two-on-one counter-attack with a terrible pass to Yeremi Pino.
United failed to heed their first-half warnings, as eight minutes into the second half, Danjuma’s promising break was ultimately rewarded when Alcacer prodded between De Gea’s legs at the near post.
Telles was to blame for the first goal for allowing Danjuma to play onside.
However, the Brazilian swiftly made apologies when he volleyed in Fernandes’ free-kick from outside the box.
With Ronaldo flanked by Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood, and Paul Pogba partnering Fernandes in midfield, Solskjaer had picked an incredibly offensive line-up.
But, after his £73 million move from Borussia Dortmund in July, it was yet another night to forget Sancho.
Juan Foyth easily kept the England winger in check before Edinson Cavani came in 15 minutes from time.
With the goal gaping from Greenwood’s exquisite cross, the Uruguayan had a fantastic chance to make himself the hero right away, but he somehow headed wide.
De Gea came to United’s rescue once more five minutes from time, save Moi Gomez and Boulaye Dia in a goalmouth scramble.
And Villarreal’s profligacy in front of goal came back to bite them as the all-time leading goalscorer in Champions League history demonstrated how to finish.
Jesse Lingard turned a loose ball Ronaldo’s way deep into stoppage time and his effort had too much power for Rulli.