Man Utd crash out of the Champions League in the group stages after conceding three goals away to the German side Wolfsburg.
I take my seat in the pub. The barman plonks a cup of black tea in front of me. The people stare. I don’t care. The Man Utd team flashes on the screen in front of me. ‘That’s it,’ I think. We are not going to win this game.
Group B is as equipoised as any. United knew a result in Wolfsburg would be enough to take them through to the second round. Two dismal results against PSV Eindhoven, both home and away, had left United in this precarious position.
If anyone was going to walk out of the Volkswagen Arena with a point, it was United. How ironic that the Reds had been hammered from pillar to post for their four goalless draws. How Louis Van Gaal would have loved one tonight.
But football has a funny way of messing with your mind. United came into this game having conceded three times in nine matches. So why did they concede three in 90-minutes in the 3-2 loss that saw them fall into the Europa League?
They have only conceded 10 goals in 15 Premier League games, but by the end of the Champions League they had conceded 7 in 6. It’s not good enough, and it piles, even more, pressure on the Dutch coach to leave when his contract runs out and allow Ryan Giggs to get United playing the way United fans expect them to play.
And yet even the star of the Sir Alex Ferguson reign would find it difficult to get this lot playing free flowing football. The great man himself would struggle. It’s not a United team full of United players. They are all chisel and hammer. There isn’t an artist amongst them.
Without the acrobatics of David De Gea, United would have conceded even more than three. The Spaniard is the greatest goalkeeper in the world, and the reason United have conceded so few this year. Two world-class saves – albeit the one against Schurrle’s chip through his own idiocy when he came racing to the edge of the box hunting for a ball he should have left well alone – kept United in with a fighting chance.
Matteo Darmian is one of the most mundane right backs I have ever seen. Full backs should fly. This lad is an Emu. The Italian never passes the halfway line. I was happy to see him go off injured. Let’s hope he is out for the next 10 seasons. 18-year old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson replaced him. We went from an emu to a rabbit caught in the headlights. He did the basics, so frightened was he of making a mistake, and who can blame him.
On the other flank, Guillermo Valera made his United debut. It was a decision forced by injury. Valera had a nightmare first half, always drifting into the centre of the park and was responsible for the Andre Schurrle sitter that the German missed in the first few minutes of the game. He had a much stronger second half. The jury is out on his United worth.
Chris Smalling and Danny Blind are quality players and escape my criticism. Smalling’s injury is a hammer blow to United’s chances of gaining ground on Man City at the top of the Premier League. Bastian Schweinsteiger is another player whose red shirt looks like skin. He also escapes my offer of a very long piece of rope.
What possessed Van Gaal to leave Carrick on the bench and start with that muppet Marouane Fellaini? Surely, if ever there was a game for a player to pass the ball sideways and backwards for 90-minutes, this was it. Was it because Dante was playing for Wolfsburg? Did he think it would be funny to have the cast of Harry Enfield’s ‘Scousers’ on the pitch?
Fellaini is one of the worst players I have seen pull on a United shirt in decades. In the first half, he left Schweinsteiger horribly exposed in the middle of the park as he constantly drifted to the left. Was he looking for the ball? Was he hiding? It was his header that bounced off a Wolfsburg players head to draw United level at 2-2, but his way is not the United way.
Memphis Depay is another absolute waste of space. He seems devoid of ideas when confronted by a defender. Only once did I see him beat a player and put the ball into the penalty area. He only has one gear. I never see him tracking back. He is the type of player that Newcastle sign.
Jesse Lingard has promise. He has energy; drive and carries the ball forward well. The youngster links up nicely with Antony Martial, and he is one for the future. He was unlucky to have a goal disallowed when Juan Mata wandered into the path of his cross and was flagged offside. It was one of the latest flags you will see, but it was the right one.
I am not a Juan Mata fan. He is a luxury player, and United don’t need that type. I hardly ever see him with the ball, and when he gets it, he wastes too many chances, and is largely ineffective. Mata was an emergency buy when David Moyes was staring down the barrel of a nuclear missile. He is not a United player for me.
Antony Martial is going to be a big success at United. He is pacy, takes defenders on and can put the ball in the back of the net. His opening goal was classic Martial. Unfortunately, he tended to give the ball away while trying to do too much. He misses the easy ball and goes for the complicated manoeuvres. Giggs and co will coach that out of him. He has all the attributes to become the Premier League’s new Thierry Henry.
Of the 11 players that started the game: De Gea, Smalling, Blind, Schweinsteiger and Martial look like United players. Jesse Lingard is under construction. The rest are garbage. United’s position in the top four spots of the Premier League is masking their ineptitude. The Champions League has well and truly found them out.
The defeat means United have failed to scramble out the Champions League group phase for only the third time since they began competing in 1994/95.
It’s a different United these days.
Very different indeed.