When they returned to Europe’s top tournament, Erik ten Hag’s team had one job – to leave a positive, lasting impression, but what did they do instead? They disgraced themselves internationally in the process.
Manchester United’s fame was established on memorable European football matches in the past, but following their much anticipated Champions League return, the “Theatre of Dreams” has turned into the Theatre of Nightmares.
With their disappointing results—they finished below Copenhagen and Galatasaray—the current United team isn’t even deserving of a spot in the Europa League. Their reputation as one of the largest clubs in Europe is seriously damaged, not to mention the financial toll the elimination will take.
The Red Devils exited the competition on Tuesday following an embarrassing loss to Bayern Munich, defying expectations that they would make a spectacular comeback to the top table of European football after years of underperformance.
United ended up with a wretched four points, their lowest-ever total in the Champions League, finishing bottom of the pack despite having been given a favourable group and spending over £165 million ($207m) on new players.
How can United let things get so bad?
Although it may not have seemed ideal to be paired with Bayern, having a top club in your group is super advantageous since they will probably beat the other teams in the race for second place by taking all the points. Bayern fulfilled their half of the agreement by taking away six points from Galatasaray and four from Copenhagen.
All the conditions were met for United to easily finish as runners-up, but instead, they finished last for the first time since 2005–06, recording their lowest-ever point total in the process.
Given the excellent draw and group in which they found themselves, United only has themselves and their excruciatingly bad performance to blame for their early departure. Though Bayern has won the competition six times and is one of the favourites every year, Galatasaray and Copenhagen ought to have been the perfect rivals.
Over the past ten years, Copenhagen’s only made four appearances in the group stage and has only once advanced to the knockout stages. When Galatasaray shocked Old Trafford in October, they had not won a group-stage match since 2018. They had also failed to advance past the last 16 in the last ten years.
Unfortunately, United are way in over their heads this time…and it may be time to take a good look at themselves
Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m against United in any way. But facts are facts. It is especially annoying because United has, for the most part, performed brilliantly throughout the campaign, only to continuously lose their composure in key situations. They have wasted two-goal leads away at Galatasaray and Copenhagen, as well as leads in three of their five games.
Even though United was leading Copenhagen by two goals at the break, Marcus Rashford’s dismissal in the 42nd minute prevented United from going to the half without giving up. They let two goals in extra time instead. They surprisingly extended their advantage at Parken Stadium, but within four minutes they conceded two goals, blowing a 3-2 lead into a disastrous 4-3 defeat.
Moreover, they failed to end the game and instead sought another goal when all they needed to do was extend their lead after overcoming the notoriously horrific environment away to Galatasaray to lead 2-0 and then 3-1.
And let’s not get started on United’s shambolic defence…
In the Champions League, it seems that mistakes are punished more severely than in domestic tournaments. However, United has given their opponents far too many chances to prove this old saying wrong.
Their six games saw them concede fifteen goals, which tied them with Royal Antwerp, who were playing in Europe’s premier tournament for the first time since the 1950s, for the poorest defensive record.
Errors, both solo and collective, have been a common sight. For Galatasaray’s opening goal at Old Trafford, Varane and Dalot mishandled their defence against Wilfried Zaha, allowing the Turkish team to attack and score again after Sofyan Amrabat made a mistake.
Casemiro and Onana plotted to give away a penalty, which Icardi missed. Then, more appalling defence from Varane and Victor Lindelof followed, giving the Argentine another chance, which he took advantage of.
Lukas Lerarger’s header was relentless despite eight players guarding a corner in the box away from Copenhagen. A second later, Varane gave away the ball, enabling another attack, with Roony Bardghji dealing the last blow. Even the always dependable Aaron Wan-Bissaka proved unreliable on Tuesday, as he allowed Kingsley Coman to score Bayern’s game-winning goal onside.
England isn’t proud of United’s performance and Brits feel like they’re being embarrassed internationally
With their dreadful performance in the Champions League, United has finished with the fewest points out of the four English teams. Regardless of what happens to Newcastle, this will remain a fact.
Positioned in the ‘group of death’ alongside Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, and AC Milan, Newcastle—participating in the tournament for the first time in twenty years—have even more severe injury issues than United.
In one of the most spectacular games ever at St. James’ Park, they crushed PSG 4-1 at home. However, they were terribly unfortunate to only draw 1-1 at the Parc des Princes on the road after being denied one of the most ridiculous penalties in history.
While Arsenal rocketed to the top of their group, defeating Lens 6-0, PSV Eindhoven 4-0, and Sevilla both at home and away, City has dominated their group and is on track to join a select club of teams to have won every group game. City is unmatched, but if Newcastle or Arsenal had been in United’s group, you could have guaranteed a second-place finish. Were United to have been drawn in theirs, could we honestly say the same? It’s extremely unlikely.
Due to their failure, United may suffer next season. England will qualify for the Champions League for the sixth time under the 36-team format, but they must continue to hold the top two spots in UEFA’s national coefficient table. Furthermore, England might drop in the rankings as a result of the Red Devils’ awful performance.
And yet, would any sane person support this currently dysfunctional team to claim an additional Champions League spot this season by finishing fifth in the Premier League? Probably not…