United looked to keep their European hopes alive with the return leg of their Europa league tie against Spanish side Athletic club. Having gone down 3-2 at Old Trafford the week prior, United had to win by 2 clear goals if they were to guarantee safe passage to the quarter finals, a difficult feat against a very impressive Athletic side. With a crunch game in the premier league v Wolves on Sunday, there was a hint of expectation that key players would be rested with that in mind, however, a very strong United side including Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra hinted Fergie believed the game was there for the winning.
A main feature of Athletic’s impressive performance at Old Trafford was the way the Basque side pressured United all over the pitch, whilst retaining possession with ease, and the home side roared on by their boisterous crowd continued their form in a dominant opening. United looked a greater attacking threat then they had at Old Trafford the previous week, but the alarming gaps at the back were soon to be punished. A seemingly innocuous long pass was poorly defended by Ferdinand, allowing Fernando Llorente to latch onto it and superbly volley home with his right foot, leaving United with a mountain to climb in order to progress. With half time approaching, the reds enjoyed perhaps their best spell of the tie so far, with Giggs going close with a header at the back post, fortuitously blocked by the head of an onrushing Athletic defender. Whilst United pressed, Athletic looked dangerous on the break, and in truth, it was United hanging on to stay in the tie at half time needing 3 unlikely goals to progress.
A hopeful second half fightback never materialised for United, as Athletic continued their footballing lesson, keen to make sure the tie was put to bed. Some wasteful finishing from the home side kept things respectable for the reds, Iraola was denied a sensational individual goal, after waltzing through a sorry looking United defence, but narrowly sliding his shot wide. But a second followed close, as some sloppy United defending from a cross allowed the ball to break loose in the box, De Marcos, one of the main protagonists of the 1st leg, lashed it towards goal and a deflection off Jonny Evans left David De Gea helpless. The withdrawal of Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick signalled the end of United’s realistic fight in the tie, as Athletic continued to press well and keep the ball away from a frustrated United. A glimmer of hope was restored with 10 minutes left, as perhaps the only man capable of producing the moment of quality required, Wayne Rooney, curled home a superb shot from the edge of the area, leaving United requiring 2 goals to take the game to extra time.
A late rally failed to bring the required goals, as once again this season, United suffered disappointment in Europe leaving only the Premier League title to fight for if the reds are to bring silver ware back to Manchester in May. Next up, a trip to strugglers Wolves on Sunday.
DDG – 6 Helpless for both goals.
Rafael – 6 Struggled to contain Munain.
Evans – 6 Exposed by lack of help from midfield.
Ferdinand – 5 Could have done better for opening goal.
Evra – 4 Positionally hopeless.
Carrick – 5 Overawed by the Athletic pressure game.
Cleverley – 5 Disappointing evening.
Giggs – 5 Should have scored in first half.
Park – 3 Lack of technique compared to opponents alarming.
Young – 5 Struggled to get involved, some great crossing though.
Rooney – 6 United’s best player and only genuine goal threat,
Welbeck – 5 Stemmed the tide somewhat.
Pogba – 6 Impressive cameo.
Smalling – 4 Failed to deal with ball in for 2nd goal.