Onana’s form mirrors United’s as they face exit from Europe
Up 2-0 and 3-1, Manchester United fumble to 3-3 draw against Galatasaray
It was another draw but nothing like the 0-0 from 30 years ago when Eric Cantona was shown the red card, Manchester United were eliminated and ‘Welcome to Hell’ became part of Champions League lore. Okay, the atmosphere was like 1993 even though the frenzied 3-3 draw between Manchester United and Galatasaray on Wednesday night wasn’t.
The Ali Semi Yen Stadium, Galatasaray’s home in Istanbul, gives a kind of boxed-in feel, at least on television. The cauldron looked and sounded intimidating, the thunder and lightning making everything frightening as the teams walked out. Within minutes though it had the library-like silence Pat Cummins had spoken of, the Australia captain referring to the 50-over World Cup final in Ahmedabad when Virat Kohli was dismissed.
Alejandro Garnacho had bulged the roof off the net in the 11th minute after a quick exchange of passes between Rasmus Hojlund and Bruno Fernandes. It is important to mention here that the move was begun by Andre Onana’s pass. In a show of how the old order has been erased, Manchester United began by playing back to their goalkeeper in the way Manchester City do. Onana at the half-line evading a challenge and finding Aaron Wan-Bissaka was more proof of how different things were from when David de Gea manned the posts. It is why as part of UEFA’s Technical Study Group Roberto Martinez had said Onana was more of a holding midfielder in the Champions League final.
There will be more on Onana but by the 18th minute, Fernandes had scored with a sumptuous shot. Looking at the result, it is instructive to refer to what Erik ten Hag said after the match. “It’s about the point when you are 2-0 up and you have to manage the game. It is not so easy when we give free-kicks away and we have to defend the free‑kicks better,” said the Manchester United manager.
Managing the game is something United have spectacularly failed at in Europe. At Istanbul, they led 2-0 and 3-1. Against Copenhagen away, they led 2-0 by the 28th minute and were 3-2 up despite playing with 10 but lost 3-4. At home against Galatasaray, Manchester United led twice but couldn’t protect it for more than six minutes when they were 1-0 up and four when they were 2-1 ahead.
At Bayern, Copenhagen and Galatasaray, where they had 17 shots, United netted three goals each but have one point from those games. Only Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, City, Real Madrid have scored more than United’s 12 goals. And while they gave all qualified, three-time European champions United are at the bottom of the group needing to win at home against Bayern Munich and hoping that Galatasaray and Copenhagen play a draw. Had Copenhagen won in Munich and not drawn 0-0 on Wednesday, Manchester United would have been eliminated before matchday 6.
An important reason for that is the number of goals they have conceded, 14. That is at par with Celtic and one less than Antwerp who have the worst record in the competition. “Too many bad goals,” said Fernandes after the match.
To Onana, happy feet with the ball but sometimes slow without it, goes a portion of the blame. He owned up for his errors at Bayern and it was his poor pass to Casemiro that led to the Brazilian being shown the red card and United conceding a penalty when Galatasaray visited. On Wednesday, Onana went the wrong way to Hakim Ziyech’s 29th minute free-kick. He isn’t the first to be wrongfooted in a free-kick but till he explains it, we will not know why he went in the direction of the United wall. And as two Galatasaray players moved, Ziyech slotted home. If that was bad, the second was worse. Another Ziyech’s free-kick, in the 62nd minute, and Onana palmed the ball into his goal. It helped Ziyech, a former Ajax player who was embraced by Ten Hag after the match, make the list that has Rivaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr as those who have scored from two free-kicks in a Champions League game.
For the third scored by Kerem Akturkoglu in the 71st, which cancelled Scott McTominay 55th minute goal, Onana could do little.
According to Opta, Onana has made seven errors that led to goals from 44 Champions League games since 2018-19. It puts the Cameroonian on top of a list he wouldn’t want to be. In second place is Manuel Neuer with three in 41 games. Onana’s expected goals on target (which indicates how many goals a keeper is expected to concede by looking at data of same volume and type of shot) in Serie A last term was 19.5. He conceded more, 24 from 24 games.
The goalkeeper at United, Gary Neville has said, is the most scrutinised position. Yet, scapegoating Onana would be unfair which was why Ten Hag said, “it is always about the team.” United’s midfield, guilty of being carved open easily this season, couldn’t deal with the pace of Galatasaray’s counter-attack leading to Fernandes’s fouls for the free-kicks. “It is always about incidents and details and we can do better,” said Ten Hag while standing by his goalkeeper. The defending should have been better, he said.
Against Copenhagen, Onana had saved a last-minute penalty. He has five clean sheets in the Premier League, no one has more. Only Alisson at 84.6% has a better save success rate than the 27-year-old’s 76.1% in the league. In the 2022-23 Champions League, Onana had 116 accurate long passes, more than any player. His performance mirrors the season his club has had: nine points from the first seven league games but also five wins in their last six; shipping soft goals and scoring some which were exquisitely crafted. Onana can make outfield players look better than they are. Problem is: sometimes he makes himself look worse than he is.