Cristiano Ronaldo marked his record-breaking 178th Champions League appearance with a 95th-minute winner as Manchester United snatched a 2-1 victory over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had barely threatened until he fired past Geronimo Rulli at the back post to ease the mounting pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with virtually the last kick of the game.
United were staring down the barrel of another embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions League after deservedly falling behind early in the second half to Paco Alcacer’s smart finish.
Alex Telles’ stunning strike quickly levelled, but a sixth draw from open play in as many meetings between the sides was on the cards until Ronaldo’s late intervention.
Despite the result, there was little in the performance to quell the growing questions as to whether Solskjaer is the man to get the best out of a squad of supremely talented individuals that are yet to click as a collective.
Bruno Fernandes’ stoppage-time penalty that ended up in the Stretford End condemned United to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday, but Solskjaer showed his backing for the Portuguese midfielder by handing him the captain’s armband in the absence of Harry Maguire.
Luke Shaw was also missing due to injury, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended after being sent off in the 2-1 defeat to Young Boys on matchday one.
A makeshift United defence looked as such in the first half as Villarreal wasted a host of chances to inflict more misery on the Red Devils after beating them in May to win the Europa League.
Arnaut Danjuma toyed with stand-in United right-back Diogo Dalot, but the Dutch winger firstly fired straight at David de Gea and was then denied by a brilliant finger-tip stop by the Spanish goalkeeper.
De Gea was the fall guy in the Europa League final as he was the only player of the 22 on both sides to fail to score in a marathon penalty shootout.