Anatomy of a Goal: Cristiano Ronaldo Rounds Off Scintillating Counter-Attack to Down Arsenal in Champions League

Adam Aladay
May 5, 2020, 4:16 PM GMT+1
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ahead of the second leg of Manchester United's tussle with Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Champions League on 5 May 2009, Arsene Wenger promised his side would produce a 'magnificent' performance.

As it turned out, however, his Gunners side came up against a ruthless United side, and it was the Red Devils who were magnificent on the night.

Speed, tenacity, energy, quality - Sir Alex Ferguson's men were just too hot to handle for the north Londoners. United made it 2-0 on aggregate when Ji-sung Park netted after Cristiano Ronaldo set him up with just 11 minutes on the clock. And three minutes later, Ronaldo unleashed a sensational drive from 40 yards out, catching Manuel Almunia off-guard from a free-kick.

Sure, these goals - especially the second - were expertly created and taken, but it was the third goal that epitomised the display on the night, and showcased this United side at their fluent, free-flowing best.

For a team to be consistently successful, it isn't just about goalscorers, and mesmerising talents producing moments of magic - it's about how the collective squad gels, with each individual player performing their duty. And it took just 15 seconds at the Emirates for Sir Alex's men to show why they were regarded as one of the very best teams in the world at the time.

With just over an hour played and with Arsenal looking for a way back into the game, Bacary Sagna was able to work some space before whipping in a dangerous cross. Theo Walcott and Kolo Toure were free inside the six-yard box, and it looked for all the world as though either player would direct the ball into the net.

However, sensing the danger, Nemanja Vidic climbed highest to make sure he connected with the ball first, powering it away from his penalty area. A vital header from the no-nonsense Serb, and it allowed his side's defence to push up and get out of their own box.

Ronaldo was the first to latch onto the loose ball, and it was at this second that Arsenal were in trouble, despite the fact the ball was just 30 yards from United's own goal. The defence had done their job diligently, it was now time for the midfielders and attackers to produce their magic.

And that is exactly what they did.

Instinctively knowing the run Park was going to make, Ronaldo produced a deft flick to set him on his way. Park, the man in the engine room and the one that never stops working for the team, took the ball in his stride and needed just one touch before feeding Wayne Rooney on the left. Meanwhile, Ronaldo was charging at full sprint on the right to support the attack.

Rooney picked up the ball and continued driving towards the Gunners' goal. The Englishman took one split-second glance to see where Ronaldo was, and took just two touches before feeding the Portuguese with an inch-perfect left-footed pass.

The forward barely needed to break his stride to get on the end of the pass before rifling the ball home first time. Arsenal defenders were sprinting back, trying to get into position and stop the attack, but such was the speed at which United moved, the Gunners had no chance of stopping it.

Arsenal v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Semi Final
Arsenal v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Semi Final / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Make no mistake about it, Ronaldo was unstoppable on the evening. His first was a thing of beauty, while his second showed his speed and understanding of the game. But it was the overall contribution, starting from defence and building up to attack, that makes this goal so breathtaking.

The Red Devils faced Barcelona in the final of the competition, but were beaten 2-0. However, they were able to achieve Premier League glory. As for a certain Portuguese star, he would swap Man Utd for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. And while he agreed to rejoin the club in 2013, he ended up staying put in Madrid and went on to score a fairly mind-boggling number of goals before departing for Juventus.

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