Anthony Martial atoned for conceding an early penalty to score his first Champions League goal for Manchester United and salvage a potentially vital 1-1 draw for his new side at CSKA Moscow. United had fallen behind in the Russian capital just 15 minutes in when Martial handled in the box, and, after David de Gea has superbly turned Roman Eremenko’s penalty onto the post, Seydou Doumbia turned in the rebound. But, with United beginning to build up some steam for the first time on the night, Martial headed Anthony Valencia’s cross down and in off the post with 25 minutes remaining.
With all four teams in Group B level on three points coming into the third round of fixtures, United manager Louis van Gaal had made it clear that his side could ill afford to make it back-to-back away defeats. A point means the two teams still sit level on points, now two points behind Wolfsburg, but will leave United feeling they have an edge ahead of CSKA’s visit to Old Trafford in two weeks’ time.
And that will come as some relief after what for a long time was an uninspiring performance. Fresh from a 3-0 win over Everton on Saturday, Van Gaal made just two changes, both on the right side, with Antonio Valencia replacing Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard surprisingly stepping in for his first United start in 14 months in place of Juan Mata. United’s coach had insisted beforehand that he would have no thoughts of Sunday’s Manchester derby, yet admitted that the Spaniard was in need of rest.
With Memphis Depay again left on the bench, Manchester United lacked any real spark for much of the contest, returning to the ponderous play of the early weeks of the season. It said much that Van Gaal turned to Marouane Fellaini to come off the bench at the half-time interval. United did gradually get better, and it was a well-taken header that got them back in it, although, rather than Fellaini, it was Martial who ended a run of four games without a goal to get his fifth for his new club.
It came with a helping hand from Igor Akinfeev. The CSKA goalkeeper had failed to keep a clean sheet in his last 33 Champions League games dating back nine years, and he will surely feel he should have done better to get to Martial’s header as it bounced off the turf. The Russia international was also in goal when United came back from 3-1 down to claim a point against CSKA when the sides last met six years ago, and there will again be disappointment for the Moscow side that they failed to turn early promise into a memorable win.
Five points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League and having come through two rounds of qualifying to make it to the Champions League group stage, CSKA had reason for confidence. And that was reinforced when they soon went in front against the three-time European Cup winners.
CSKA defender Mario Fernandes had done well to get in behind down the right side of the box, and when he looked to flick it back over the head of Martial, the French 19-year-old stuck out his hand to leave the referee pointing to the spot. De Gea did all he could to keep his side level with a superb save from Eremenko, but the ball cruelly came back off the goalkeeper’s legs and fell for Doumbia to get his third goal of the group stage and fifth overall in this season’s competition.
De Gea had to be alert, too, to turn over a long-range shot from Musa as United continued to struggle to turn their hefty possession into real dominance. Van Gaal’s dissatisfaction was clear when immediately after the half-time whistle blew he went to have a word with Fellaini.
Sure enough, the Belgian replaced Bastian Schweinsteiger at the interval and United began to display more purpose. Wayne Rooney failed to make a headed chance count, but United’s teenage starlet again continued to justify the club’s huge investment in him this summer to take them closer to returning to Champions League knockout stage.