Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho boasted about his Champions League record after Marouane Fellaini’s injury time winner fired his side into the last 16 with a 1-0 win over Young Boys at Old Trafford.
The three-time European champions sealed their place in the knockout stages with a slice of fortune when Fellaini controlled the ball with his hand before firing into the far corner, provoking Mourinho to throw a box of water bottles to the ground in a mixture of joy and relief.
“For some of my lovers, for those who like stats, 14 seasons in the Champions League, 14 times qualify through the group phases,” said Mourinho on his personal record as boss of Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid as well as United.
“Never one of my teams stays behind the group phase. The season I didn’t play Champions League, I won the Europa League.”
But there was little for Mourinho to brag about from another laboured performance as United were on the verge of failing to score for a third consecutive European home game for the first time ever.
“The most important thing is to qualify,” said 55-year-old Mourinho, who has had to withstand a barrage of criticism this season for United’s poor results and insipid attacking football.
Bold decisions backfire
In keeping with United’s struggles under Mourinho, it could have been even worse but for the brilliance of goalkeeper David de Gea, who produced a stunning save from Ulisses Garcia’s deflected effort to deny Young Boys midway through the second half.
“From my position, David’s save – only one save in the whole game – but it looks a phenomenal save,” said Mourinho.
“A save that the best goalkeeper in the world does and gives his team the possibility to win the match.”
Mourinho made the bold decision to leave Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku on the bench and Alexis Sanchez out of his squad as his made six changes from a drab goalless draw with Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Marcus Rashford was given his chance to start as centre-forward, but Mourinho was less than impressed with the 21-year-old just five minutes in when he dinked his finish over the bar with just goalkeeper David von Ballmoos to beat.
“This is the type of game where if you score in the first minute normally you go for a different kind of performance, but it is still very difficult for us to score,” responded Mourinho when asked about his exasperated reaction when Rashford missed.
“If I saw my manager react like that, I would be absolutely livid!” Said former England striker Gary Lineker of Mourinho’s response.
‘It was not handball’
An initial flurry of excitement quickly died down as again Mourinho’s men laboured to break down the Swiss champions, who they beat 3-0 in Bern back in September thanks to a Pogba double.
Mourinho’s patience finally ran out as he summoned Pogba and Lukaku from the bench for the final quarter.
But it was De Gea who came to the Red Devils’ rescue at the other end moments later with a remarkable save to claw Garcia’s deflected shot off the line.
Christian Fassnacht then blazed over another glorious opportunity to give the visitors a famous win.
They were made to pay when Fellaini, who was fortunate not to be seen controlling Lukaku’s flick-on with his hand, fired the winner into the far corner.
“For me it was not handball,” insisted Fellaini. “I controlled the ball. If it touched my hand it was not on purpose.”