This was poised to be a tribute to the great Cristiano before José Mourinho’s side produced a group-stage homage to 1999
Well, that was a glorious little blast from the past. And no, Cristiano, not in the way you were hoping. Grit, pluck, a feverish belief in the plan: it seems odd now that just a few weeks back these were precisely the things this Manchester United team seemed to be lacking.
Instead of which on a mild, still, occasionally fevered night in Turin United produced a moment of Barcelona-lite, a group stage homage to the triumphs of 1999, turning 1-0 down into 2-1 up in the final four minutes.
There was even time for some high-grade toxic José Mourinho theatre at the end. First United’s manager could be seen waving his arms and stamping his feet like an angry little marionette as Marcus Rashford, through on goal, had the temerity to try to actually score rather than running it into the corner, or hiding in a hole with the ball up his jumper, or poking a passing pensioner in the eye, or whatever else José had in mind.
As the final whistle was blown Mourinho could be seen punching the air furiously. Not a punch of joy, but an actual nose-crushing series of straight rights in his moment of triumph. Finally he marched out on to the pitch and was confronted by Leonardo Bonucci, irresistibly riled by this figure in black, cupping his ear to the crowd, producing a horribly weird, mocking sneer.
A match that had looked like fading out into the mutual handshake of a useful draw with an hour gone had become something else entirely. A match that had looked like becoming a paean to the great Cristiano with 63 minutes gone had become something else again.
And from here there will be a temptation for some to see turning points, thresholds crossed, a sense of ignition for whatever third-season, late-stage José United is supposed to look like. If this is perhaps a leap too far two things are certain. First, this United team produced a display that Mourinho will treasure for its discipline and its hard edges.