United fell behind in farcical circumstances, as their own corner was cleared – and nobody had stayed back, leaving Demba Ba an easy run through from the halfway line to finish.
The away side had plenty of possession but did little with it and when Juan Mata was robbed in possession, a quick passing move split United apart and Edin Visca hammered in a second – before Anthony Martial’s immediate response.
United dominated play after the break as the Turkish side protected their lead, but they had no cutting edge to break down the home team and after a late header was cleared off the line, suffered a first defeat of the group stage.
Here are five things we learned from the game on Wednesday night.
All the old cliches – ‘Sunday League defending’, ‘schoolboy stuff’ – simply don’t come close to describing how crazy and unbelievable the concession of the opening goal was.
One simple long ball bypassed every outfield United player, leaving 35-year-old Demba Ba free to trot through on goal and score – but where does the real fault lie? The team’s set-up to defend a counter was non-existent, but surely someone should have realised the danger as it was unfolding.
But Nemanja Matic, the last man back – 20 yards inside the Basaksehir half – didn’t notice.
Dean Henderson, the man who had a full-pitch view of the situation, didn’t notice. And apparently Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his entire bench of coaching staff didn’t notice, as we’d certainly have heard them screaming instructions into the empty Istanbul night air.
Defending for the second goal was hardly any better, albeit with more men racing back this time.
Flexibility or insecurity?
Solskjaer won plaudits in Europe a week ago after changing his tactical set-up, moving to a diamond midfield and seeing his side hammer RB Leipzig.
Two defeats later, it seems more aberration than astute.
The diamond was gone here, replaced by a more linear midfield, a 4-2-3-1 base later and then a complete abandoning if any noticeable shape as they sought out a late equaliser.
Between those systems, the back three to which Solskjaer has turned in the most difficult of matches and the regularity of his rotation of tactics, it appears that his selection process is more to do with how best to avoid defeat rather than how matches can be actively won.
Tactical flexibility is a superb positive for teams, but that’s when they all function in different circumstances – not when each are simply turned to when the last one hasn’t worked.
Dean Henderson hasn’t seen too many minutes come his way this season, after a couple of years being first-choice for Sheffield United on loan.
This was a big opportunity then, and if he couldn’t do too much about saving the actual shots which ended up in the net – the second was absolutely thundered in – then questions can be asked about his communication and positioning.
Considering the distance Ba ran, Henderson wasn’t exactly over-committed in how far out of his goal he came, even without reiterating that he hadn’t been screaming at those in front of him to cover the dangerous gap.
And for the second the same could be said: he could have been more aware of the huge space at left-back, indicating Luke Shaw to get back quickly. The defeat won’t be his fault, but it’s hardly a 90 minutes to trouble David de Gea’s place in the team either.
Questions have already been asked of the United manager – not just now, this season, but even last term. He has habitually answered those with a timely win, such as the one against PSG this season.
But now it’s one win in four in all competitions, two defeats on the bounce and Everton to come at the weekend, who are six points and a massive 11 places in the table ahead of United.
With the international break to come thereafter, the pressure will only increase on the Old Trafford manager if he can’t find a way to win at Goodison Park.
How strange a week can make football seem. Had United taken the points, they’d be on the cusp of qualification at the halfway stage in a very difficult group.
Instead, having beaten the two perceived strongest sides and lost here to the weakest, they find themselves likely being concerned as to whether they can still realistically qualify at all.
Winning the reverse fixture is an absolute must, but United might also be hoping one of PSG or Leipzig hammers the other both times, all-but-ending their fight and spirit, if not their mathematical hopes.
Two big defeats by tiny margins, two big swings in momentum and outlook for United.