Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Champions League on Wednesday as goals from Juan Mata and Chris Smalling secured an invaluable 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg.
The Reds had lost the opening Group B match at PSV Eindhoven and, as a result, needed a positive result on matchday two at Old Trafford ahead of a potentially difficult trip to CSKA Moscow, who bagged an impressive 3-2 triumph over the Dutch champions in Russia.
Although the importance of this match was emphasised by Louis van Gaal ahead of kick-off, United made a disappointing start and fell behind to Daniel Caligiuri’s goal in the fourth minute after the German-born Italian dribbled down the right flank to exchange passes inside the penalty box before finishing past David De Gea with aplomb, much to the delight of the continuously vocal travelling fans in the away end.
United responded well and Bastian Schweinsteiger hit a speculative half-volley at an open goal just moments later following a dodgy clearance from goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, before Juan Mata’s curling effort was headed over by the physically imposing former Bayern Munich defender Dante. Anthony Martial then went close with a mazy run from the right that led to the Frenchman firing just off target.
The visiting Germans appeared to be content with their early league and understandably held a deep defensive line for much of the first half, essentially asking what United had got in attack. An answer was almost given in the 25th minute when Martial superbly got to the byline and found Rooney with a driven pass across the area, though the captain blazed his shot over the bar from around six yard. Memphis was then frustrated as his header from Mata’s superb pass was saved by the goalkeeper.
The Spaniard was quickly celebrating, however, after his cross was handled inside the area by Caligiuri and United were rightfully awarded a penalty in front of the East Stand, which our no.8 calmly stroked into the bottom corner to inspire scenes of great relief and ecstasy at Old Trafford. The mood was only damped slightly by the sight of yellows cards for Morgan Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger for separate fouls on Maximillian Arnold, just before the half-time break.