Manchester United singularly failed to do what they needed to do last night, and could only manage to draw 0-0 with a well-organised but entirely unspectacular PSV Eindhoven side. Both Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial missed presentable chances, but it will be the limp surrender in the second half that lingers longest.
The first half was 45 minutes of largely unthrilling competence. But though they failed to score, United weren't quite at their tedious worst: Wayne Rooney buzzed around industriously behind the front three, Jesse Lingard looked quick and threatening, and Anthony Martial worked himself several decent shooting opportunities. The only shame was that none of the resulting shots avoided Jeroen Zoet in the PSV goal.
As for the visitors, they looked a little dangerous on the occasions they were able to isolate and run past United's midfield — Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have many admirable qualities, but pace isn't either of their strengths — but David de Gea was only asked to make one save, and it wasn't particularly difficult.
The second half started at a livelier clip, and within a couple of minutes both Schneiderlin and Lingard had planted headers wide of the Dutch goal. But Van Gaal, needing a win to take the edge of a potentially tricky trip to Wolfsburg in two weeks time, was in no mood for patience, and a double change soon followed. On came Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini for Schweinsteiger and the disappointing Memphis Depay.
If the change was meant to revive the team, it backfired: the hour mark ticked past and, as Old Trafford grew audibly restless, PSV started to play with both more confidence. United's possession became ragged. Davy Pröpper started to find space for a couple of well-caught long shots, though luckily for De Gea the direction wasn't quite as impressive as the technique. Meanwhile, Smalling had to be at his angular, awkward best to prevent PSV's runners finding space in the box.
Still, as the balance of the game shifted, United worked their best chance of the game. Ashley Young moved down the inside right channel and, though his first touch wasn't perfect, managed to squirt the ball to the edge of the box and the onrushing, unmarked Lingard. He caught the shot first time but couldn't get over it, and as the ball vanished over the bar and into the crowd he punched the turf in anger.
With fifteen minutes to go, United pushed Fellaini up front and moved Rooney back into midfield. But the ball wasn't sticking for the former, the latter was being bypassed with some ease, and PSV — though they weren't testing De Gea — were arguably the better team. Certainly, they looked the more composed, and United's efforts petered out into a dribble of niggling fouls, poor first touches and misdirected long balls. Even the (perhaps too-)late introduction of Juan Mata couldn't change the game.
With Wolfsburg having beaten CSKA Moscow earlier in the day, United will now go to Germany knowing that they'll need to match or better PSV's result against the Russians. Given that they ended this game looking like they might never score again, it's not a prospect that will be filling anybody with too much optimism.