An injury-time clanger from Jesse Lingard saw ten man Manchester United slump to a crushing 2-1 defeat in their opening Champions League Group game against Young Boys.
After Aaron Wan-Bissaka‘s contentious 35th minute red card, the visitors mounted a resolute attempt to repel the spirited home side, only for their hard work to be undone by a second moment of self-inflicted agony.
The United right-back had been given his marching orders for a clumsily mistimed tackle after failing to control a routine pass in the opposition half.
Although the offence seemed to lack any true malice, it was deemed dangerous enough to warrant an instant dismissal and the 23-year-old was left to suffer the ignominious trudge back to the changing rooms.
The visitors will no doubt reflect upon Wan-Bissaka’s recklessness as the moment in which the tone of the contest instantly shifted.
By the time the points had been thrown away, it was easy to forget that United had started brightly, playing on the front foot and threatening to ease their way to victory.
And they were rewarded for a strong opening spell in the 13th minute, as Ronaldo met a sumptuous outside of the boot pass from Fernandes to stab home the opening goal.
United continued to pose the greater threat until Wan-Bissaka’s intervention turned the tie upside down, making a 60 minute grind for at least a point the revised target.
Reds’ boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sent on Raphael Varane at half-time, a clear signal that the Norwegian had chosen to dig in and sacrifice midfield control in favour of a backs-against-the-wall rearguard action.
Although Young Boys pressed and harried gamely they created very little until finally making a 65th minute breakthrough with a routine goal, Ngameleu stabbing past the stranded David De Gea from close range.
United tried to cling onto their solitary point and largely kept the home side at arm’s length. For long periods it appeared they might rescue something from their trial by self-sabotage.
However, just as it appeared that they’d battled over the line, the second implosion arrived. With little sense of imminent danger, Lingard played a casual, blind back pass towards De Gea.
The waiting Siebatcheu couldn’t believe his luck, latching onto the tame pass to prod home the winner and send the Wankdorf into blind ecstasy.
Questions will be asked, and rightly so. The same doubts, dormant sine May, are likely to resurface.
Fans might be led to wonder if Solskjaer overplayed his hand by completely ceding control of the midfield in favour of an extra defender.
Those same fans might also question United’s persistent inability to control the midfield tempo and wonder if the failure to plug that hole – so obvious to so many – has shown its first sign of corrosion.
Ultimately, it’s perhaps best chalked off as one of those nights. There’s plenty of time for United to put aside their disappointment and prove that lessons have been learned from past failures.
But they’ll need to prove it quickly.