Two defensive mix-ups involving Fabien Barthez and Wes Brown allowed RC Deportivo La Coruña to stun Manchester United FC 3-2 at Old Trafford and march to the top of UEFA Champions League Group G.
Things had started so well for United when Ruud van Nistelrooij gave them the lead after just seven minutes. The Dutchman’s first European goal for the English champions followed Ryan Giggs’ surging run into the Deportivo penalty area. Faced with a clutch of defenders, Giggs allowed the ball to run through to Van Nistelrooij, who wasted no time in prodding it past goalkeeper José Molina.
Deportivo levelled eight minutes from half-time following a mix-up between keeper Barthez and defender Brown. Neither United player seemed able to decide who should take responsibility for the ball as it ran free in the area, leaving Sergio González to nip in and poke it into the net.
The Spanish side had scored two quick-fire goals in their victory over United in Spain at the end of September and history repeated itself here. Barely two minutes after equalising a cross from the right by Héctor Berenguel was headed forcefully home by an unmarked Diego Tristán to put Deportivo ahead.
United stormed back straight away with Van Nistelrooij once again the scorer. This time the Netherlands international bustled and battled his way past a flat-footed Deportivo defence before scooping the ball over Molina.
Seized the advantage
Sir Alex Ferguson had promised that this would be one of the best games of the tournament so far and he was certainly correct, as both sides poured forward at every available opportunity at the beginning of the second half. Unfortunately for United it was once again some mercurial defending that enabled Deportivo to seize the advantage and win the match.
Kept his head
On the hour, pacy forward Tristán picked up a loose ball and sprinted towards the United penalty area with substitute Brown in hot pursuit. However, Barthez ran out of his goal in a bid to clear the danger but ended up flat on his back and grasping for the ball as the Deportivo player kept his head and placed it past Brown and into the net.
United tried in vain to level the game. Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjær came on to little effect and even a succession of David Beckham free-kicks from dangerous positions could not breathe life into his team’s flagging spirits. In the end, Deportivo were worthy winners, they controlled midfield, created a plethora of good chances and were resolute at the back when United pressed hard for an equaliser in the second half. Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson will be delighted with the performances of Van Nistelrooij and Giggs but apoplectic at the unforced defensive blunders which gifted Deportivo two of their goals.