Athletico Bilbao 2 United 1 (5-3 on aggregate)
And so the Europe League adventure is over, a chase halted before we ever really got to the nitty-gritty important part of the competition.
Previous articles may have given the impression that`s what I wanted, but that`s not to say exiting the competition doesn`t hurt, it does.
But what hurt more is the realization that it wasn`t long ago that we were being matched with Barcelona in a Champions League Final and there was talk of Sir Alex Ferguson ensuring that we would close the gap on the Catalan side on an onwards and upwards spiral.
But instead, we look a lot worse off than that night at Wembley when we were soundly beaten. It makes me feel that the heralding of Scholes and Giggs as the shining lights of our team has hidden the fact that the standard we`re known to set has fallen dramatically and that it`s been hidden behind a Premier League that isn`t as good as it used to be.
Last night, in the stadium they call The Cathedral Athletico Bilbao gave United a football lesson. A side assembled form the Basque region and the Basque region alone, showed that hard work and skill can be harnessed to produce a side that plays attractive football, puts in the miles, creates chances and can live with the best.
It was always going to be a tall order venturing into Bilabo with a 3-2 deficit, even more so when the three goals were away goals and it became obvious, from the off, that Bilbao were intent on completing the job. The constant harassment of our players, often by two or three opposition players, gave is no time on the ball, no time to compose ourselves and no time to spark off any real flowing football.
The fact that Bilbao took so long to open the scoring was a little surprising but when the opening goal came it was almost a goal of Football League origin but executed with precision. A long diagonal ball came out of defence which Llorente allowed to drop over his shoulder before volleying it past De Gea, giving our Spanish keeper no chance.
Trailing 4-2 on aggregate, we knew that it`d take a miracle to get back into this one and it was a miracle that was never to be forthcoming. Cheered on by an incessant wall of noise, Bilbao started the second half looking to kill us off. Remarkably the inevitable was delayed until the 65th minute when De Marcos, who`d earlier in the match missed an absolute sitter hitting the ball over in front of an open goal, fired home form inside the area. It was 5-2 and truly game over.
Thankfully, for those United fans in the 40,000 assembled, mostly to witness our demise, there was one moment to cheer. With ten minutes of normal time left, Wayne Rooney scored the goal of the night unleashing a rising shot, from outside the area that flew into the top corner. It was a goal of such elegance that even the home support applauded, but then again they would, they`d seen their side do the hard work, oppress us for most of the game and show enough skill to show they stand more than a decent chance of winning the Europa League this season, and here at Vital Manchester United we`d like to wish them all the best as they march on along the road to glory.
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