It will be another trophyless season for Manchester United, who crashed out of the Champions League in frustrating circumstances on Tuesday night, losing 0-1 Atletico Madrid (1-2 on aggregate) in the round of 16 of the competition.
How did United set up?
Ralf Rangnick had no real injury concerns heading into the European tie, providing him with multiple options to choose from to face Diego Simeone’s side.
Perhaps the biggest talking point when the team was announced was the absence of birthday boy Paul Pogba, who turned 29 on the day. Scott McTominay came back into the side, as did Bruno Fernandes, with Alex Telles retaining his spot despite Luke Shaw being deemed fit.
It was a 4-3-3 that United lined up with.
Here was the starting lineup and substitutes:Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Raphaël Varane (CB), Harry Maguire (CB), Alex Telles (LB), Scott McTominay (CDM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CM) Anthony Elanga (RW), Jadon Sancho (LW), Cristiano Ronaldo (ST).
Subs: Dean Henderson, Tom Heaton, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelöf, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Edison Cavani.
How it went down
United started the game with great energy, and Elanga was unlucky not to convert a header in the 3rd minute when Jan Oblak was slow to come out to a cross. The 19-year-old has a golden opportunity ten minutes later when he latched onto Fernandes’ cross, but the Swede’s touch was met by the face of the goalkeeper from close range.
It was then Atletico’s turn to attack in the 15th minute when Rodrigo De Paul let rip from 25 yards, but his shot was stopped well by De Gea following the deflection off Fred.
Fernandes tried to control a long ball in the area just minutes afterwards with Reinildo appearing to make contact between his legs, but the referee and VAR saw nothing sinister in the challenge.
Fred was finally looking like a £50m player with some dazzling footwork throughout the half, but the game was fast becoming a frustrating one.
Colchoneros gave the Red Devils a warning in the 34th minute when a fine team move was rounded off by Joao Felix, but Marcos Llorente was deemed to have been offside before crossing it in.Embed from Getty Images
The Spanish side found themselves in front before the interval, however, when Renan Lodi was afforded acres of space at the back post, subsequently heading the away team in front in the 41st minute. Many will point the finger at Dalot, but McTominay and Elanga ought to have done more to help out defensively.
A big half was needed from Rangnick’s team and the fans were fully behind them, roaring on a European night as ever.
Elanga had a good opportunity in the first moments of the half. Fernandes flicked the ball backwards when controlling a long pass, with Elanga picking up possession towards the goal, but he could only fire wide from the right.
Sancho came agonisingly close in the 59th minute with a volley over the bar. The ball was worked nicely down the right-hand side, with Dalot teeing up Sancho at the back post. The Englishman made a clean contact, but it was another opportunity that went begging.Embed from Getty Images
Rangnick rung the changes in the 67th minute, with Rashford, Pogba and Matic on in place of Elanga, Fernandes and McTominay respectively. Cavani came on to replace Fred not long afterwards.
It was a questionable referee showing in the second half, with a lack of yellow cards shown for petulant fouls from Atletico players amongst other bizarre choices.
Varane’s header was palmed away in the 77th minute following a Telles free-kick, with Mata thrown on as a last role of the dice, but with such a lack of cohesion, it was not enough to get the equalising goal.
Final score: Manchester United 0-1 Atletico Madrid (1-2 on aggregate) (Lodi 41’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Despite being hooked off for the final period of the game, Fred looked the best of an underwhelming bunch today.
Particularly in the first half, the Brazilian showed his native talent with some fine footwork to get out of tricky situations. The 29-year-old was moving the ball quickly and was tenacious in the tackle, just as he is renowned for being. He fell away somewhat as the second half endured, but the team on the whole seemed to lose its way as the game progressed.
Special mention to Varane, who again showed his world class quality through his composure and reading of the game, doing verry little wrong overall.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
For a large proportion of Reds fans, the Champions League was the only glimmer of excitement left this season; the race for top four is embarrassing when looking at the club’s rich history for trophies, with European nights at Old Trafford always a special occasion, but Rangnick’s side crashed out in a poor manner on Tuesday night.
Attentions now turn to the race for fourth once more, but with Arsenal in good form and in possession of games in hand, it looks highly likely that it will be Europa League football for Manchester United next season- a sobering thought considering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke of a title challenge at the start of the year.
It’s a case of who stays rather than who goes. Many feel that there are only three or four men worthy of wearing the shirt next season.
The press will ring the Pochettino and Ten Haag stories in the coming months, but does it ultimately matter? The new man in the hotseat will be the fifth permanent manager to take charge at the Theatre of Dreams since the departure of Sir Alex. The ownership is the real problem at play- if a tree is rotten from the roots, the rest of it won’t fare so well either.
Next up for Manchester United is Leicester City on Saturday 2nd April in the Premier League.