As of last night, United’s season is as good as over. The upset we had dreamt of – even more intensely for those 22 seconds between Evra’s goal and Mandzukic’s equaliser – wasn’t to be and United, for the first time in a long while, have absolutely nothing to play for between now and May.
Here’s five things we’ve learnt last night.
1) Moyes must go
This Bayern Munich side is one of the finest teams European football has seen over the last two decades and bowing out to the Champions of Europe in their backyard wouldn’t normally justify claims for the manager to be sacked and David Moyes’ inaugural campaign been successful, he shouldn’t have been judged based on last night’s match.
Likewise, had United reached the semifinals, Moyes shouldn’t have been considered a success. United performed well against Bayern, perhaps better than they have throughout the season, but the truth is that this Champions League run merely papered over some of the enormous cracks that have appeared since Moyes was appointed in July.
Last night proved yet again that Moyes is utterly incapable of changing the course of a game with his substitutions, which were both largely overdue and questionable. Danny Welbeck was inexplicably replaced despite having been a threat for Bayern’s defence, while Wayne Rooney remained on the pitch despite being clearly unfit, as Moyes himself admitted after the game.
A manager who opts to field a half-fit player must be fully aware of the consequences. If Moyes knew Rooney wasn’t fully fit, then it’s preposterous for him to claim he was surprised by Rooney’s limited impact, while if he didn’t know Rooney wasn’t fully fit (which would be ridiculous for other reasons) then he should have brought him off once he’d realised so.
2) Time is up, Pat
It’s painful to single out Patrice Evra for criticism, particularly after the thunderbolt with which he had put United in front, but Paddy was at fault for both Mandzukic’s equaliser and Muller’s goal that put Bayern ahead. Evra was too far away from Mandzukic as the Croatian was allowed to direct his header past De Gea and he should have done a lot better against Arjen Robben, who was allowed far too much time and space to cross for Muller.
We’ve become used to Evra being out of position and far from solid at the back, but last night’s mistakes were unforgivable, given the circumstances and while the collapse of United’s defence means the blame must be shared, one gets the feeling last night could have been Evra’s swan-song.
We’ll miss him, though. His celebration showed just how much he “gets” United and that’s what he’ll be remembered for.
3) Has Shinji been freed?
Amid the disappointment that accompanied United’s capitulation last night, it would be easy to forget about Shinji Kagawa’s performance. Too often the Japanese was prone to let games passing him by, particularly when not deployed in his favourite role or during matches in which United did not enjoy a large share of possession, but last night Kagawa proved that he can be an asset even when United are set out to defend.
Even though United were starved of the ball for large traits of the game, when they did have possession Kagawa’s passing was incisive and his movement precise and intelligent, much as they had been against Newcastle on Saturday.
If the Japanese can continue his good run of form then it’ll be hard for Moyes, or whoever will be in charge next season, to ignore him.
4) Defending is mental
“If you are a schoolboy you get told that if you score, make sure you don’t concede right away. We didn’t do an awful lot wrong tonight but it was just a couple of sloppy errors. The only crime was conceding a goal [so soon] after we had scored. That was the biggest crime,” said Moyes after the game.
While it’d be hard to argue with him on this particular issue, questions ought to be asked of the way United reacted after conceding. It was almost as Evra’s goal disrupt United’s plan, rather than galvanise the players into action and as soon as Mandzukic equalised, heads started to drop on and off the pitch, despite the fact that United were still largely in the tie.
Conceding a goal less than a minute after having gone ahead is indeed criminal, but the sight of Moyes slumped back in his seat after Muller’s goal – when a goal would have still taken United through – would have hardly filled his players with confidence and it symbolised how the mentality of this team has changed in nine months.
5) The end of an era
Last night was, in more ways than one, the end of an era for Manchester United. Not only it was the final chapter of an uninterrupted 19-year long run in the Champions League, but it was also the last game in the competition for Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and, probably, Patrice Evra.
There’s no place for sentimentalism in football, though Moyes’ decision to leave Giggs on the bench when an appearance last night would have allowed him to equal Raul’s all-time record of 162 appearances in the competition was rather puzzling, particularly given that even a five-minute cameo at the end of the game would have sufficed.
Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra have been pillars of United’s European campaigns guaranteeing that it’ll take a huge effort to replace them and it was an incredible shame that their successful Champions League careers had to come to such an inglorious end.
Whether David Moyes is the right man to guide the club through this rebuilding process remains largely debatable, but so far there’s been nothing to suggest that might be the case.