Manchester United knocked out of Champions League after last-16 defeat to Atletico Madrid
Their season is good as over after this 1-0 defeat, bar a unnecessarily panicked chase for a place in the competition next season.
If they manage that, it will need immense changes for it to be anything other than yet another forgettable exit. This is a shadow of the club it should be, as a night like this proved. There was no grandstand comeback, no great display from Cristiano Ronaldo. He was a ghost, but one of many. His psychological hold over Atletico is broken, to go with so much in the United team. They can point to the referee but should mostly be looking at themselves.
Atletico, for all the intensity of their celebration, didn’t really require the same intensity in their display. They had too much nous for United, too much Champions League experience.
That is even more of an indictment for United given Diego Simeone’s side are a long way from the force they used to be in this competition. The big difference is that they have a committed squad, bound around a top-class manager.
How United must envy that, despite the fact Simeone seemed to be pelted with something as he ran away in celebration at the end. He probably did United a favour, sparing them greater humiliation later in this competition.
Ralf Rangnick’s team, as they will probably only be described until May, just don’t have what it takes.
They barely had enough composure to react to refereeing decisions that went against them. It all meant the game went against them.
United had started the game with real adventure, and initially looked the better side, but it became difficult to say how much of that was a result of them surging forward and how much was Simeone setting one of his traps.
This was a far more calculated display from Atletico than the first leg; they played as if they’d learned a lot from that game.
Then, they started in aggressive fashion, taking the game to United until they ran out of energy. They were not just conserving it here, but containing Rangnick’s side in doing so. For all United’s early enthusiasm, the only chance they had was that from Anthony Elanga. It was a bad miss, and one from which Atletico were admittedly fortunate to stay level, but it also served as a warning to sharpen up.
It was a long time until they gave up such space again. They instead found a lot of space around David De Gea’s area, puncturing it at will. Joao Felix’s movement meant Harry Maguire didn’t really know where to go, giving Koke the freedom to pick so many runs and passes. Many of the runs were from out wide, as United just couldn’t cope with the breaks from Atletico’s wing-backs full-stop.
It was no surprise the goal came from the right, because United had already been giving a warning by a goal ruled out for the thinnest of offside margins.
In that instance, Koke had just slightly delayed one of those passes, meaning Marcos Llorente was mere centimetres too far in front to play his own pass to Felix. United didn’t learn, Felix didn’t stop.
One other surge saw Reinildo brush over Elanga, in a move that stricter refs might have seen as a foul. It would have been a bit harsh given the general abrasiveness of the game. The bigger question was whether United let it get to them, whether Atletico – classically – got into their heads.
Some of United’s players were still complaining to referee Slavko Vincic as Felix flicked the ball in behind Alex Telles, allowing Antoine Griezmann to cross for Lodi, who has probably been the most influential player in this tie.
United’s mood was again influenced, as their tactical approach remained sketchy. You could see the idea but not the execution. Too many passes were off, too many runs on the wrong path. That was symbolised when Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes remonstrated with each other and then the referee, the official having got in the way of the ball when a break looked on.
Again, it should have been something United just got on with. Fernandes instead persisted in complaining, as the play passed him by.
That was like much of his game. The playmaker eventually went off shaking his head.
That agitation had started to cloud United’s game, and led to a panic. Maguire remarkably followed Fernandes off, Rangnick turning to Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and – eventually – Juan Mata.
Without a single minute in the Premier League this season, the Spanish playmaker represented the ultimate Hail Mary. But there was no ultimate United European display, no Ronaldo heroism.