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.
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.
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.