Manchester United went through hell and high water in Istanbul but their Champions League aspirations were left hanging by a thread after a thrilling 3-3 draw against Galatasaray.
Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay took great pleasure in silencing the home fans, who spent 90 minutes trying to intimidate their visitors out of the game, but two André Onana errors allowed Galatasaray back in and a stunning Kerem Akturkoglu strike ensured the points were shared.
United’s Champions League hopes were up in the air at kick-off, which was also in jeopardy at one point. The Istanbul winds sent the Bosphorus crashing over its banks and the rain turned the streets into rivers. There was surface water on the pitch but it eventually passed the test and battle commenced with thunder and lightning adding to the spectacle.
The atmosphere was deafening in the lead up to kick-off as fans unfurled numerous banners, most notably a vivid display of red and yellow to remind their visitors where they had arrived: “Welcome To Hell.” Cool heads were required.
There was only one way to silence the Galatasaray supporters and that was by scoring the opening goal. It lacked the acrobatics of Garnacho’s opener at Everton on Sunday but it needed equal levels of composure. United had settled by the 11th minute and were able to pass the ball at speed in the final third. The move started on the right and drew in the Galatasaray defence, opening space for Garnacho at the back post where he gladly received a Fernandes pass and, despite the noise, the teenage winger fired the ball into the roof of the net.
The silence was brief, as home supporters launched projectiles at the celebrating players. The referee had words with Garnacho, possibly advising him that antagonising the fans by telling them to keep calm was ill-judged, but who could blame him?
The noise levels dropped to a whisper, except for one corner high in the stadium, when Fernandes made it 2-0. The midfielder took possession of the ball 25 yards from goal, got it out of his feet and launched a shot with a level of aggression not seen in Istanbul since Alex Ferguson’s squad landed at the airport in November 1993.
Fernandes was then booked after giving away a free-kick on the edge of the box when he clipped Lucas Torreira. The former Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech stepped up and sent his shot through the wall and beyond Onana. There was a gap but the shot was close to the goalkeeper, who put his weight to the left and could do nothing as the ball passed to his right. Small details matter, but worse was to come for the Cameroonian.
An incredible Sacha Boey pass went over the United defence and landed perfectly at Mauro Icardi’s feet. The striker controlled it dead and rushed through on goal, drawing Onana before slotting home. The brave assistant referee put his flag up immediately and the roar became a whimper when VAR concurred, although there were inches in it.
The atmosphere was menacing and the weather added an extra layer to the drama, not that United were too concerned by the parts of the match out of their control until it came to their own goalline. Galatasaray threatened to level but it was McTominay who allowed United to breathe amid the pyrotechnics from the stands. Antony slipped the ball to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who fired in a low cross for McTominay to divert in.
If Onana could be questioned on Galatasaray’s first goal, he was certainly at fault for the second as Ziyech swung a free-kick into the box. It went over everyone’s head and straight to the goalkeeper who inexplicably let the ball slip through his grasp into the net. Just when United thought they were in control, they needlessly gifted Galatasaray a way back in. The goalkeeper’s feet are slow when he attempts to make saves. For someone signed for his passing ability, his lack of speed when moving along his line is a concern.
There was nothing Onana could do about the third as Akturkoglu, on as a substitute, took out his frustration – and that of 50,000 Galatasaray fans – by thundering the ball into the top corner from 15 yards. His first touch was sublime and the second reflected the thunder in the skies, not that anyone could hear it amid the celebrations. It was the 14th goal United have conceded in their five group matches, which explains their perilous position in the competition.
Both teams were in desperate need of the win and the action in the final quarter went from end to end. If the fans were not exhausted by their own exertions, watching the action on the pitch will have tested anyone’s mental stamina. Fernandes and Facundo Pellistri came closest to a winner. But United are left requiring favours to give them any chance of making the knockout stages.