Manchester United went down early thanks to a penalty, but found a way to claw their way back into their match with CSKA Moscow. Anthony Martial was involved in both goals in the match, playing both goat and hero in what wound up as a 1-1 draw in the Champions League.
The early period of the match looked like it was more likely to see Manchester United score that crucial first goal. They got forward well, especially with Anthony Martial giving Mario Fernandes fits on CSKA Moscow's right side -- but they struggled to turn their threats into real scoring chances. That helped give CSKA plenty of early chances on the counter, and those chances turned into gold for the Russians.
While Martial had been giving Fernandes problems when Manchester had the ball, it was Fernandes making Martial look silly on one counter, leaving the teenager in his wake as he burst into the box to latch onto a ball over the top. Martial's desperation to catch up and stop the play helped lead to a handball in the box, gifting CSKA a penalty that Manchester couldn't afford to give up. David De Gea did well to save Roman Eremenko's shot from the spot, but Seydou Doumbia crashed the box well and hammered the rebound home.
That goal gave CSKA the confidence they needed to utterly stifle Manchester United, leaving the English team spinning their wheels uselessly for the rest of the first half. CSKA hammered at Manchester's goal for a while in search of a second moment of fortune and a 2-0 lead, but David De Gea was a brick wall, making several impressive saves, including one diving stop that required him to adjust his read and launch himself across his body to make the save.
The second half saw United make a substitution that may have changed the complexion of the match in their favor. Louis van Gaal took off Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had looked a bit off the pace in the match, and replaced him with Marouane Fellaini. Van Gaal also deployed Fellaini higher up the pitch, hoping to use his size and energy to help disrupt CSKA's defense and create an opening.
A combination play in the 65th minute saw Antonio Valencia get free up the right side of the pitch to deliver a cross into the penalty area. Fellaini was among the Manchester attackers in the area, and CSKA's defense reacted as though they thought the cross was heading for him -- but instead it went to Anthony Martial, who redeemed his earlier mistake by heading home off the far post. Crucially, Igor Akinfeev had set himself up in goal to defend against a header from Fellaini, leaving himself out of position for one from Martial, a problem worsened when he dove far too early and was left helpless as the header faded further and further away from him.
The match wound down with both sides trying to find a go-ahead goal and failing, leaving the match in a 1-1 draw that neither team especially wanted. With all four teams completely knotted up in Group B coming into this matchday, they were hoping for a win to try to create some separation. Instead, they didn't get it, and both teams now sit two points behind VfL Wolfsburg after the German outfit beat PSV in the group's other match today. This group looks like one that is going to see a lot of change and a lot of close results, and it's still very much up for grabs.
CSKA Moscow: Igor Akinfeev; Mario Fernandes, Vasili Berezutski (Alexei Berezutski 41'), Sergey Ignashevich, Georgi Schennikov; Pontus Wernbloom, Roman Eremenko (Kirill Panchenko 83'); Zoran Tošić, Alan Dzagoev (Aleksandrs Cauna 87'), Ahmed Musa; Seydou Doumbia
Goals: Doumbia (15')
Manchester United: David De Gea; Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo (Daley Blind 63'); Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger (Marouane Fellaini 46'); Jesse Lingard (Memphis Depay 79'), Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial; Wayne Rooney
Goals: Martial (65')
3 things we learned
1. Wayne Rooney just isn't a lone striker anymore
All match long, it was far too easy for CSKA Moscow's defenders to isolate Rooney and leave him useless to the rest of United's team. Part of that came down to iffy service from midfield, but more often than not he wasn't even available for any service. He doesn't have the legs or work rate to make it work on his own up top, and it actively hurts Manchester's attack when he's used this way.
2. CSKA Moscow are better than you think
Most people ignore the Russian teams in competitions like the Champions League because they never really do anything. That's fair -- it's been a long time since a Russian side has been especially threatening in the Champions League. But this CSKA side might just be able to break that trend, with a solid defense, strong midfield, and some incredible proficiency on the counter attack. If they can get just a little bit of luck -- and a proper breakout from Alan Dzagoev would certainly count as that -- they could make a lot of noise in the Champions League this season.
3. Goalkeepers make the diffference
When two sides aren't playing at their best and defenses make mistakes, the key to the match is which goalkeeper has the better day. Today, that was David De Gea, who couldn't do much about CSKA's opening goal, but made damn sure they didn't get a second, making some very impressive saves along the way. Igor Akinfeev, however, was not on the same level -- he had some decent saves, but made a crucial mistake in his read of Anthony Martial's header for Manchester United's equalizer to let them back into the match.