It was all going so well for Manchester United. After 42 minutes, Erik ten Hag’s men were 2-0 up thanks to two Rasmus Hojlund goals, but like so often in their recent history, it turned sour quickly.
Referee Donatas Rumsas and his team took centre stage as Marcus Rashford was sent off for a ‘dangerous’ but inadvertent lunge on Elias Jelert. Within 12 minutes, Copenhagen were level — the first from Mohamed Elyounoussi before a Cupido Goncalves penalty, awarded for a handball against Harry Maguire in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
United regathered themselves at half-time and, despite having 10 men, retook the lead through Fernandes’ penalty after another debatable handball.
But there was another twist with seven minutes to go as Lukas Lerager bundled in an equaliser. It then got worse when Roony Bardghji scored what proved to be the winner three minutes from time to leave United bottom of Group A.
Here, The Athletic’s Mark Critchley addresses the talking points from a game that had it all…
Where has United’s composure gone?
If United do not qualify from this group stage, then their collective response to two sendings off will be the main reason why.
Unlike with the collapse after Casemiro’s dismissal against Galatasaray, this time you could feel some sympathy for Ten Hag and his players.
The foul by Rashford was unintentional, his red card unfortunate, and 13 minutes added on to the end of the first half left his team-mates waiting a long time for a much-needed regroup.
But what was required, both in that defeat to Galatasaray, tonight and even in the opening defeat to Bayern, was game management.
It was something United could rely upon last season, Ten Hag recently referencing it as a key part of the Carabao Cup success, but has been seen far too rarely this term.
Instead, quickfire collapses have made qualifying from this Champions League group far harder than it needed to be. United have conceded two in five minutes at Bayern, two in 10 minutes against Galatasaray, and now two in nine minutes in Copenhagen.
United showed composure to take the sting out of the Danish champions at the start of the second half, only to then give it all away again at the death. This team needs to remember how to see out difficult spells.
United have a lot of work to do to qualify
The upshot of this latest collapse is that there is essentially no margin for error left. United now must avoid defeat to a Galatasaray side that have played group winners Bayern Munich twice.
Then, even with victory, they will likely have to beat Bayern themselves to make sure of reaching the last 16.
This middle four-game stretch against Group A’s two lower seeds was always likely to define United’s group. In the end, the visit of the second-favourites to win the competition outright is likely to decide their fate.
Although on this showing, even with the mitigation of Rashford’s game-changing red, you would not necessarily back United to take a point in Istanbul.
Hojlund is on fire in Europe
Hojlund was always going to be up for this one. He may have grown up a Manchester United fan, but he had more than a soft spot for Copenhagen, too, attending matches at Parken Stadium with his family as a youngster.
Joining the Danish champions’ academy was a dream and his progression through the youth ranks was rapid, but belief in Hojlund’s ability was not shared by those at the very top of the club. The €2million fee received from Sturm Graz was seen as a good deal. It doesn’t look like such a good deal now.
Copenhagen’s loss is United’s gain. Hojlund is now the Champions League’s joint-leading scorer with five goals and though he is yet to open his Premier League account, it is plain to see from his two finishes here that he possesses the raw instincts of a natural goalscorer.
What next for Manchester United?
Saturday, November 11: Luton Town (H), Premier League, 3pm GMT, 10am ET
There are must-win games for Ten Hag, then there is Luton at home. United’s dire home form this season needs a lift and a handsome victory over Luton will be expected by an increasingly frustrated Old Trafford.
United have lost three Premier League matches at home this season and a fourth reverse to the strugglers would take the pressure on Ten Hag to a different level.
It will be Luton’s first trip to Old Trafford in 32 years — their previous three visits resulted in two 4-1 losses and a 5-0 hammering.
(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)