There were moments to forget as well as ones to remember in Moscow as Anthony Martial gave away a first-half penalty in a miserable opening by Louis van Gaal’s men — but subsequently rescued the match with an excellent headed finish after the break that gave the match a completely different sheen.
In fact that goal — Martial’s fifth of the season since arriving from Monaco — took United from bottom to second in Group B, two points behind leaders Wolsfburg, with CSKA due to visit Old Trafford in two weeks’ time.
When you take into consideration last weekend’s impressive 3-0 victory at Everton in the Premier League then, it leaves them ready to face City in three days’ time despite an uncomfortable feeling that this United side still isn’t playing the positive kind of football Old Trafford fans have been so used to.
They had more than 70% possession against CSKA and in the end deserved their point, so perhaps complaints of lack of creativity can be saved for another day as United fans concentrate on the positive performance of Martial despite his difficult start.
Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin said: “Anthony didn’t let his head go down, which can happen after the penalty, and he scored a great goal. Then we pushed on and gave everything and couldn’t quite get the second goal, which was a shame. We know we need to try and create more in future.”
There was an element of controversy in van Gaal’s team selection, opting to ‘rest’ Juan Mata and give Jesse Lingard a rare start on the right of midfield — he hadn’t started a game since the beginning of last season. But he couldn’t possibly have expected the lacklustre and one-paced response his team offered up in the first half in Moscow, especially after playing so well at Goodison.
It started to go wrong when Martial bizarrely handled in the area as full-back Fernandes attempted to lift the ball over his head in the penalty area.
It was a clear penalty — and although David de Gea did superbly to keep out Roman Eremenko’s spot-kick, Seydou Doumbia reached the rebound ahead of the static Phil Jones to put the Russian side ahead.
That lack of effort from Jones rather summed up what followed; because it could have been worse for United had de Gea not produced an acrobatic save to keep out a 20m chip from Musa moments later. By contrast CSKA, renowned as expert exponents of the art of playing on the break, looked extremely comfortable and always able to create chances with the pace of their attacking players and the energy of over-lapping full-back Fernandes.
Van Gaal’s response was to haul off Bastian Schweinsteiger, who once again played well within himself, and replace him with Marouane Fellaini at half-time — effectively swapping a holding midfielder for an attacking option. And it worked as United found a way back in the game and eventually earned themselves a point.
Rooney, playing up front with Martial on the left as he did at Everton, came close to finding an equaliser with a near post header from a Herrera cross; and then Martial himself made amends for his earlier error.
It was an excellent cross from Antonio Valencia on the overlap that set it up — but an even better diving header from the Frenchman, angling it cleverly into the opposite corner of the net from 12m out for his fifth goal since arriving from Monaco.
United could even have won it late on but in reality — despite having so much possession — didn’t create the chances to warrant it; and that perhaps is the biggest worry ahead of Sunday’s game.
It will take something a little more to win that one.
Akinfeev 7, Fernandes 7, Ignashevich 7, V Berezutski 6 (A Berezutski, 41; 6), Schennikov 6, Wernbloom 6, Zoran To?si´c 6, Dzagoev 6 (Cauna 87), Eremenko 7 (Panchenko 83), Musa 7, Doumbia 7
De Gea 7, Valencia 7, Smalling 6, Jones 5, Rojo 5 (Blind 64), Schweinsteiger 5 (Fellaini 46), Schneiderlin 5, Lingard 6 (Depay 80), Herrera 6, Martial 7, Rooney 6.
Carlos Velasco Carballo