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European crisis for United

Manchester United were knocked out of the Europa League by a rampant Athletic Bilbao side, after a 2-1 defeat in Spain condemned them to an aggregate 5-3 defeat.

Ten months ago Wayne Rooney scored against a Spanish side on club’s football biggest stage. Tonight he repeated the feat but the outcome was the same.

Sadly for United, that was the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League final, while tonight it was Athletic Bilbao in the last 16 of a tournament that Fergie had described as a “punishment” back in December.

Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, United hopes were dashed by a wonderful strike from Fernando Llorente and a scrappy goal from Oscar de Marcos as Bilbao pressed them and out ran them, in similar fashion to what they had done last week.

United’s lineup mirrored Athletic’s 4-3-3, with an unchanged back five and a three men in midfield featuring Carrick, Park and Cleverley, with Giggs and Young supporting Rooney upfront.

If Athletic had planned to defend their advantage they surely did nothing to demonstrate their intentions, as they started the game on the front foot and should have been ahead after 14 minutes.

Llorente’s header allowed Muniain to race through United defence but, when 1-on-1 with DeGea, the midfielder saw his shot crash against the post with De Marcos blasting the subsequent tap in over the bar.

The Basque were in front eight minutes later, as Llorente blasted a ferocious volley past DeGea from the edge of the box, after a 40 yards pass from Amorebieta. It was a goal of sublime quality, not bad for a player who had missed training because of a hip injury.

The giant front man eventually made way to substitute Toquero in the first half, as Bielsa sensed that his team had all but booked a quarter final berth.

United were now facing a desperately uphill struggle, needing three goals. They created virtually nothing before halftime and not much else afterward as Athletic continued to peg Fergie’s men in their own third.

Iraola produced a Ronald-esque moment after waltzing through United back four but couldn’t apply the finishing touch to a move that deserved to be capped with a goal.

United back four struggled to cope with Toquero workrate and the striker was himself guilty of two glaring misses. First he fired over, then he headed wide with the goal at his mercy but redeemed himself by setting up his club’s second goal as he beat Chris Smalling – who had replaced Rio Ferdinand – in the air.

Following Toquero’s header the ball spun towards De Marcos who slotted it home to give Athletic a 5-2 lead on aggregate.

Birthday boy Pogba replaced Carrick while Welbeck came on in place of Ryan Giggs who was awarded a standing ovation by the San Mames crowd as he left the pitch.

With ten minutes to go, Rooney superb effort earned United travelling contingent a small consolation.

Despite Fergie’s claims, United never looked too bothered about Europe’s second cup and must now focus on the league as they travel to Wolves on Sunday.

After three Champions League finals in the last four seasons, this year represents a massive blip for United in Europe – both in the Champions League and in the Europa League. United dismal performances should take nothing away from Marcelo Bielsa’s side though. The Basque are a wonderfully organised team, with some real talent in their ranks and dominated both legs of this tie.

Should United lift the league in May though, the reasons behind their continental failure will be easier to analyse.

Daniele (@MUFC_dan87)



  1. Rahul

    16 March 2012 at 05:20

    Its a distraction for sure that we have to play on thursdays and then the premier league. But if we had qualified for the champions league knockout phases wouldn’t we almost be in the similar situation of playing midweek and then on the weekend. Yes I understand it would have meant 1 day more to rest but also tougher opposition. Frankly this has shown that our squad isn’t good enough at the moment to challenge the elite like Barcelona , Madrid and Bayern etc. We have quite a few players that are young and talented but with that they are injury prone as well. We dont have enough quality on the bench and even though we spent a considerable amount this season in the transfer window a similar sum or higher would be needed next season to boost our squad.

  2. RedUnited

    16 March 2012 at 06:43

    I believe… we deserve a overall change in the Summer… we should put in some money this time round to save ourselves from these kind of Europian bashings from next season onwards.. ANDERSON THE INJURED SHIT should be sold, add on to that the selling of EVRA.. His errors are too costy for us.. Park shud be shipped back to Asia.. Bring in one deadly Stricker to help Rooney up front.. 2 decent Midfields(one of the attacking mould and other defensivly sound).. and one LB (Desperately needed)… We look good in the wings and in Degea we have a young keeper who will grow in strength and confidence with evry passing day.. CB we have Vidic, Ferdinand,Evans and Smalling..

    • Rahul

      17 March 2012 at 03:50

      I doubt we’ll sign a big striker. Rooney is our main man and if we get in some like Higuain or Cavani it would lead to Hernandez and Welbeck not getting the chances. I am sure Berbatov will leave in the summer for free and we’ll keep Macheda to give him more chances.
      I don’t think we’ll sell Evra as well. Even though he hasn’t been great for a while but if you sell him and sign another LB it would mean we’ll have just 1 LB again. You need competition for the LB position to get these players performing at the top level. Same is the case with RB , we need a proper RB not a make shift Phil Jones or Rafael who doesn’t know how to tackle.

      Midfield… Haven’t we all been talking about the midfield for the last 2 years. This season at the start all the talk was about Cleverley but he has been injury prone as well. I’d say get Eriksen , Gotze or Muniain or 2 of them.

  3. John Tring

    16 March 2012 at 06:48

    Only 1 point confirmed: This Utd team is totally lacking in quality in every position. Except Rooney, 9 other outfield players would probably not get into Bilbao side, let alone Real or Barca. SAf’s utter failure to strengthen in right places ( actually eveywhere ) in the last 2 years is now haunting Utd. Too many duds are there. Too many are out of their shelf life and I’m not talking about Giggs or Scholes here. Bad buys are also hurting. Utd need a total overhaul and don’t let last season’s title win dupe you. Basel, Benfica, Blackburn, Bilbao, New Castle have shown cruelly how far Utd have fallen. With all due respect, isn’t it time SAF said goodbye and let a younger manager take over before Utd turn into Arsenal or Liverpool?


    • Andrei

      16 March 2012 at 13:55

      @John Tring: @John Tring: “Except Rooney, 9 other outfield players would probably not get into Bilbao side…”

      They will not make Bilbao side simply because Ahtletic have established a policy of using only local players (from Basque Country). They have only one foreign player Fernando Amoriebieta who is technically a Venezuelan by birth but has strong Basque connections having been raised in Basque region and through his parents both of whom are from the area as well.

      This definitely limits Athletic options but brings unbelievable loyalty to the club. Also it is amazing to see so much footballing talent coming from the Basque Country.

  4. Daniele

    16 March 2012 at 07:42

    Changes are needed, yes, we’ve known that for quite sometime. But classifying the rest of the team as rubbish,it’s ridiculous and wrong. The same players last year carried within a whisker of a league and Champions League double and some of them played in 3 finals over the last 4 seasons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to defend our shambolic performances in Europe or the fact that we need to strengthen in the summer, but we’re top of the league so it’s not all doom and gloom.

    • thatboywazza

      17 March 2012 at 17:04

      @Daniele: Guys this shit happens remember porto in 2004 when they out thot us and out played wasn’t becuase we had a terrible team.we aren’t just as good tactically in europe as we are in the league.

  5. Spizzy

    16 March 2012 at 09:58

    did this yesterday, my first reaction would probably have been to slate the players and ask for a mass overhaul of the midfield. Hell I’d have asked for a midfield exchange program between united and bilbao. But after a night of thinking about it I think I’m in a better state to offer an objective analysis of this and not as knee-jerk as it would have been – PARK has got to go though.
    My main gripe is not that we lost, or even how we lost, these things happen every once in a while, it’s the fact that we do not seem to learn from these losses. The game is changing but we are not changing with it. Fergie fames himself at his ability to adapt to changes in the game but this latest change his caught him totally flat footed. A few years ago Barca were renowned for their passing game and no one really took note of their pressing The game has evolved to a point where players press more and so run more yet united are stuck in the Age of end to end type of matches. And dropping deep when the opposition have the ball. It’s like there’s a rule at OT, if you are not the main striker and the opposition have the ball, then you should be somewhere in our own half defending.
    Two incidents that have stuck with me was in the 2nd half, bilbao had the ball in our half and the bilbao player was surrounded by 3 united players, they never even challenged or attempted a tackle they all sat back and tried to intercept the ball, I sat there thinking, why not go and try and get the ball from the player instead of waiting for a wayward pass? But the main incident was just after the game started and united were pinned in their own half totally unable to get out. There were so many bilbao players in our own half and you could see our defenders were dumbfounded. At one point, Ferdinand, evra and evans tried to play the ball out of defence but there were 4 bilbao players chasing the ball. The ball was eventually lost when a evans attempted a long pass to Rafael and it went out. The rate of pressing was just incredible, they gave us no time on the ball and we totally lacked composure.
    We need to change our game and start pressing instead of dropping back, I hate copying teams and tactics but this is how the game is being played now and unless we are willing to forget winning in Europe we have to join the trend. We have an outdated technical and coaching staff. I for one do not believe that bilbao has better players than united, but the team has better technical and tactical awareness. This is where the changes need to happen, and if we can improve our tactical ability we can be better placed to notice where we need to make personnel changes. But knowing the trend I wouldn’t be surprised if we bought another defender and a striker. I mean we lost because we concede 5 goals so a defender will stop that, and we also lost because we didn’t score many goals so bring in another striker to score and problem solved.

  6. colver

    16 March 2012 at 10:36

    Ferguson’s post match comments defy belief.

    “It was a fantastic end- to-end game, there was nothing in it really. But the goal was a bad one for us to lose.”

    We were thoroughly outplayed.

    We are not rubbish. We just need space and time on the ball to show our abilities. Under any sort of pressure we lose the ability to string a pass together and resort to long balls. Plus we give passing sides way too much time on the ball. Luckily there aren’t that many teams out there that combine a press with keep ball tactics. But you can guarantee when we do meet teams like that we don’t have a chance.

    Ferguson likes to blame our defending which is convenient because we have a lot of young defenders. But if our midfield is not keeping their midfield at bay of course our defense is going to get overrun.

    Our team does not need an overhaul. All it needs is a hard working defensive midfielder and a continental play maker.

    In an ideal world I would also want a wide winger/forward who would allow us to play a 4-3-3 in Europe and keep Park and Young on the bench
    So long as we are soft centered it is important we have players capable of penetrating on the flanks and cutting inside.

    And yes perhaps the most important signing of all would be a continental coach to replace Phelan and drill our team in the latest tactics Carlos Quieroz style.

    • RedDevilEddy

      16 March 2012 at 13:07

      @colver: We need to play football, that is all there is to it. I think United have become too obsessed with winning the past few years the team has lost its rythm, flow, and general football if I’m honest. I know that we are a team in transition and all that, but I just can’t see where we are going playing wise. The start of the season was just so motherfucking awesome! Ando-Cleverley, Young and Nani, Wazza and Welbz, it was a joy to behold. I’m not saying we’re not playing good football these days, but as I said in my discussion with Craig it’s not all about scoring goals. Vision, touch, movement, composure, this team needs more of that. No player will actually give us that unless we change our style. Yet again, not formation, but style.

    • Dr. S

      17 March 2012 at 12:12

      @colver: How about Michael Laudrup as No.2? He is Scandinavian, who seem to adapt well to both Fergie and Manchester weather, he has a grasp of midfield as good as Pep’s going back to their Barca days (arguably the most outstanding midfielder in Spain in the early-mid 90s for both Barca & Real -remember his “no-look” passes), did a bit ok coaching in Spain but would probably benefit from working with Fergie to understand how to manage a big club with big egos.

      Secondly, Ever Banega. Time to revive that debate again. This could be the deep-lying playmaker ala Luka Modric that the team needs. The man who makes the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal. Genuinely left-footed, well under 26yrs, keeps the ball moving well and does a passable screening of defense. Often compared to Xavi.

      All in all, I more than agree with Colver’s general comment. Except that we need to buy a defensive midfielder, we have one in Phil Jones cum Paul Pogba. Phil Jones is not a central defender, he is Roy Keane incarnate.

  7. ash is the man

    16 March 2012 at 11:53

    One of our main problems is our inability to press the oppostion. When a European team plays us we seem to play contain football when really we should be pressing our midfield and forwards onto their defence like bees swarm to honey. Its clear our tactics our just not up to standard and we seem to be playing with too much respect for the oppostion as we are now afraid to go punch for punch and the reason why is we have no real quality and the PLAYERS know we dont have any real quality.
    Even though rooney scored a beauty last night I have to saw he was just awful through out. He cant pass or beat a man, he is more a butcher than an artist and he doesnt fill me with faith like ronaldo or van nistlerooy did. He is just a player that is above average and is only hyped up because he is english. WE really need to invest in a quality forward because having rooney as our main outlet just wont be good enough……….

  8. Yang

    16 March 2012 at 13:08

    It is not a Euro problem only though,It is the problem for Cup game. Of course,usual transfer plan roll out since it is panacea to fan.

    Rooney was poor too, think score the goal make people differently.

    Problem is United have weak defense, we are not press high up and let opposition has the ball. it is very useful defense tactic since e England league teams tendency to bypass middle, playing route one football often and focus on wing play. Central midfield defense is not much important as different league team, also defend deep has many advantages, look at AVB, he try to push up defense line and fail miserably. Arsenal push up defense line high but they has flaky defense.

    We does not playing pressing game but we have solid defense for compensating it. it will not change if SAF remain same kind of footy philosophy.

    Defense will be stronger as young players gain experiences, but team need good imposing defensive mid for get the ball out from defense and team need to practice how to connect pass under pressure, It seems like many player’s movement is too static.

    Fergie at least try different tactic last game, man marking Bilbao player with Park, it seems like people think he play as a CM somehow, He play as a makeshift DM and man marking.

  9. Yang

    16 March 2012 at 13:16

    We do have many good forwards so 442 will not change, Rooney and Welbeck is not imposing as an one top striker, We do need more midfielders if we try to three men CM tactic but I highly doubt that because changing playing style mean total overhauling the team.

  10. Yang

    16 March 2012 at 13:44

    We are very good at countering high pressing team, we sit deep and defend, wait until opposition lose the ball, counter attack.

    The main difference of Spain team is they mainly press on our defenders so we need to counter it reinforcing DM and defender’s ball skill to avoid pressing. We need aggressive ball winner to interrupt their passing too. This tiki taka is not the ultimate football tactic, I think Fergie already move into this direction but we have teething problem and need few important cogs in the machine.

  11. thatboywazza

    17 March 2012 at 17:41

    The thing everyone seems to FORGET was that we were playing away from Home.Where we need to score two goals in order to progress.Defensively we were always going to struggle cause we would be caught on the counter.Offensively they were going to enjoy more ball possession than we were going to.Our attackers would be starved of the ball.There was only one realistic result here.Why everyone is upset i don’t know.Whether it was Real Madrid or Barcelona they were going to struggle away from home,chasing a win against a good side.If they were in our shoes i doubt they would have fared any better.We failed to take advantage of our Home Leg and win it,thats why we lost this match.its as simple as that.Same as Porto 2004,we didnt win at OLD trafford where we were meant to.The reason why we have beeen soo good lately in Europe that we even won the Champions League was we had an excellent run of Home Form coupled with our ability to nick crucial wins away from home.The Home Form gave us the confidence to win away from home cause we weren’t always chasing the games inorder to progress.This season we lost some of our invcibility thats all.Our team is young the core part of it,granted we need a few decent players to spice up things in midfield and defense.Offensively we have the right strikers,just need to settle on a permanent partnership.Not chop and change every few games.

    • Moscow is my heaven

      17 March 2012 at 22:29

      @thatboywazza: I’m sorry but what the fuck is this shit. Haven’t seen this much delusion in a long while. You need to watch a replay of that Athletic game and tell me we lost because of hurt morale. A strike partnership? In Europe? I guarantee you that no team will win another CL with a 4-4-2.

      This is ridiculous.

      • Ian

        17 March 2012 at 22:52

        “I guarantee you that no team will win another CL with a 4-4-2.”

        I don’t believe that either (depending on how long you’re saying no other team will win using 4-4-2)

    • Moscow is my heaven

      18 March 2012 at 00:51

      @thatboywazza: Actually, I want to apologise for the tone of my reply. That was completely unwarranted and out of line. I disagree with you on formation, but that’s the beauty of football, the discussion is objective.

      I feel like a twat, sorry.

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