The festivities began in the 95th minute and lasted almost an hour after the final whistle.
Manchester United needed some cheers, and they got it when Wednesday’s Champions League game against Villarreal was won five minutes after stoppage time. “Viva Ronaldo” filled the air on a night reminiscent of the glory days – for both United and their match winner.
Cristiano Ronaldo likes to play in the Champions League. He provided further evidence by delivering another unforgettable moment in the competition.
The Portuguese superstar scored many great and important goals in European competition. Here was one who got United’s enthusiastic fans on their feet. Those present at the first Champions League game in front of spectators at Old Trafford in two and a half years had received a stormy finish.
United were disappointing overall against Villarreal, heading for a third straight game without a win until Ronaldo struck after Jesse Lingard’s sacking.
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Despair turned to joy in a flash as Ronaldo puckered the net before running to the corner, tearing his shirt and tossing it in the air to celebrate.
“This is what happens at Old Trafford,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport. “It has happened so often. We had to ignore caution and were lucky in the end.
“Sometimes it’s not about ‘pass there, pass there’, but the spectators – and they sucked it in earlier – and when you have Cristiano on the pitch you always have a chance. He’s so good in front of goal.” and he has an impact on everyone. “
“That’s what world-class players do”
Ronaldo returned to United in August after a 12-year absence, after at one point close to joining rivals Manchester City. He is believed to have spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson, his former United manager, before deciding to return to Old Trafford.
The 36-year-old has a rich history in the Champions League and has won the trophy five times. Against Villarreal, he made a record 178th appearance in the competition. United needed his inspiration on Wednesday.
Solskjaer was under pressure after a humiliating defeat in their first group game against the Young Boys. His team came into the competition after two consecutive home defeats in weak performances against West Ham and Aston Villa.
But match winner Ronaldo got up with his fifth goal of the season in the renowned “Fergie Time” and conjured up a beaming smile on his old boss Ferguson’s face, who enthusiastically applauded the winner.
It also brought a lot of relief to Solskjaer and the fans in the stands who stayed in the stadium long after full-time with this continuous play of “Viva Ronaldo”.
“It’s an atmosphere. I’m just soaking it up,” former Premier League striker Clinton Morrison said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“When your team needs you, Cristiano Ronaldo produces. Thanks to Manchester United – they didn’t play that well, but they did well for Ronaldo.
“He can have a quiet night, but that’s what world-class players do – they end like this.”
Solskjaer added: “He’s done this so many times. He’s done that throughout his career.
“He’s so mentally strong, he stays in the game and I saw him all day today how focused he was.
“If he gets that one chance, it’s a goal. A real sign of a very good finisher is to keep calm when the chance presents itself.”
“United relies on individual brilliance”
United should have lost the game.
Only at the break it was goalless because of Villarreal’s bad finish and the brilliance of David de Gea in the home goal. But the guests took the lead in the second half when Paco Alcacer scored a goal from close range.
Solskjaer had the talent to cause Villarreal problems – Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba all started – but the coach needs to figure out how best to make them effective together.
He had a brilliant moment from Alex Telles, whose fabulous volley was reminiscent of a much-repeated goal Paul Scholes scored in a Premier League match in Bradford 21 years ago. But the game appeared to be heading for a draw until Ronaldo scored in the 95th minute.
Ronaldo’s 2008 Champions League winning teammate Owen Hargreaves said on BT Sport: “For Solskjaer, you can see the emotions on his face. This stadium has gone crazy and that’s what Ronaldo is giving you.
“He gives you hope because he can score those big goals. You don’t take Ronaldo off because he can. The stadium stood up for them and their great players got them over the line.”
Former striker Michael Owen added: “I think United are relying a little too much on individual brilliance and moments like Alex Telles’ goal, one of the great goals Old Trafford has seen in recent years.”
“But in the last 10 minutes it felt more like a team, they were a lot better. And when you have Ronaldo, there’s always a chance that something will happen.”
United have a test plan ahead of them – before the end of November they face Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the Premier League, as well as two Champions League encounters with Atalanta and the second leg against Villarreal.
It won’t be an easy task for the manager. Solskjaer’s reign seems to fluctuate between joy and despair. Should his team continue to fight as a unit, the Norwegian will need more moments of individual brilliance from his star players.