Sign up to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter sent straight to your inbox for free
Sign up to Miguel’s Delaney’s free weekly newsletter
Another infamous European night at Old Trafford. It should be a landmark low, but almost the most deflating element of this 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich was how grimly routine it all felt.
Manchester United, one of the grandest and richest names in this competition, have again gone out of the Champions League at the group stage. It is the third time it has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson, meaning it’s their most common round of exit in that period.
The performance this season was so bad that they find themselves out of Europe altogether as the bottom team in the group, although some at the club might find solace from that. There wasn’t much else. The second place they aimed for has instead gone to Copenhagen, a club with a fraction of United’s budget. That is where the damage was done.
While that meant there was only ever a slim hope of going through – and the Danish side’s victory over Galatasaray ensured any win would be irrelevant – the club’s rich legacy in this competition was built on such defiance. There was absolutely none of it here.
There was nothing much at all. Where was the energy? Where was the intensity? The Stretford End eventually implored United to “attack attack attack” but the complete absence of any such impulses eventually left some of the stadium booing the side off at the end.
With United out of Europe, there are questions about Erik ten Hag’s ability to coach the team
(AFP via Getty Images)
These are not the sounds we are used to hearing after that Champions League theme. Something does stir when the anthem is played at Old Trafford amid the lights. Well, for most, that is, except the players.
This is why there are growing questions for Erik ten Hag himself, even if everyone is constantly keen to put it in a wider context.
Manchester United should be performing like this on what is supposed to be the classic European night at Old Trafford. This just reminded that all they are going to have for some time are their memories.
It was another utterly forgettable display.
Bayern, already through but perhaps looking to make a point after their own 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, didn’t even need to step it up to win. They were quite low-intensity themselves, Kingsley Coman’s winning goal coming from the forward almost walking through the middle of their team. Harry Kane, for so long billed as a potential United player, didn’t score but did set it up.
This game showed one reason why he is at Germany’s biggest club rather than England’s. His side are through with ease, among the favourites for the competition even if they do look lacking in a few areas.
Harry Kane’s assist was another reminder of what could have been for United
Not that you could judge from this game. It was almost a kick-about for them.
Bayern were still having more of the ball and the attacks. This was another tension for Ten Hag to overcome on the night. United were playing in quite a controlled way when they were going to eventually have to go for it, but Bayern were still getting through that with relative ease.
It meant the team almost looked like they were in two minds, to go with how thoughts were always going to be in Copenhagen. The news came through shortly before the hour that Lukas Lerager had scored for the Danish side, although it didn’t really change the atmosphere or the energy. It was already a drab game, with a muted crowd.
It didn’t help that Bruno Fernandes blazed United’s best opportunity over the bar after good work from Aaron Wan Bissaka. It looked like it was going to be one of those games. It certainly wasn’t one of those big European nights at Old Trafford.
On 71 minutes, Bayern managed what they had been half-heartedly threatening all game. They also did it at near walking pace. Kingsley Coman had weaved his way through the centre, for the ball to eventually be worked to Harry Kane. The English forward clipped an artful ball back through for Coman who finished emphatically.
Kingsley Coman’s goal ensured Manchester United were knocked out of Europe
It was almost too easy for him. Why did Andre Onana stay so close to his line? If that sounds like the set-up for a joke… well, you can write your own punchline.
This is the current reality for United. They obviously have many more issues than the goalkeeper – as illustrated by the goal itself – but a strange season for Ten Hag’s primary signing only continues. United’s problems meanwhile combined. There were so many errors leading to the goal, to go with all of those that have characterised this entire European campaign.
That can now be talked about definitively, since it has been decisively ended. It is a low but just part of a decade of disappointment in the competition that has seen this club rise to its most emotional heights.
This game never threatened to do that. United never threatened at all. They’d been involved in so many ludicrously chaotic matches that the biggest of all ended up being a non-event.