Colin: Atletico a team that wins those matches, Manchester United are not
This loss came with an all too familiar feeling. United have crashed out of Europe again, and in painful manner. They haven’t won a UEFA Champions League knockout game at Old Trafford since 2014, when Robin Van Persie’s hat trick saved the team from embarrassment at the hands of Olympiakos, only to be beaten in the quarter finals by Pep Guardiola’s vulnerable but clearly superior Bayern Munich side.
Today, United followed up a dramatic 3-2 win featuring a hat trick from Cristiano Ronaldo with a 2nd leg loss to Atletico Madrid, a vulnerable but clearly superior side in Europe that had a pivotal advantage: They know what it takes to win at this level.
Manchester United have not been a consistently good unit over multiple seasons for some time now. It felt they were close under Ole until the collapse this year, but they’ve once again entered a period of significant doubt and turmoil. Clubs that experience that every other year simply don’t compete in Europe with much consistency, whether the club’s name bears weight or not. Until they’re a team that stays at/around the top level for an extended period again you can expect more nights like this, where talent and potential can only take you so far against opposition that has been there before.
Pauly: The Scott McTominay of matches
I don’t mean this to be a dig at Scott. Just, you know those matches where McTominay shows up full of energy, opens up with a bunch of hard tackles, blocks a bunch of passes, and does a lot of other eye-catching stuff? Enough to make you go, “whoa, McTominay has been a monster today.” But then take a second to think about it and say “well it’s great that he keeps breaking up counters and winning the ball back but once he’s on the ball has he actually done anything productive with it?”
That was Manchester United tonight. Fred was balling out like a Brazilian, Ronaldo looked like a man on a mission right from the jump, Jadon Sancho was running around nutmegging people left and right, and Atleti weren’t coming close to United’s goal. It was really a joy to watch. But then you suddenly realize that it’s been 35 minutes and for all the fun United are having they’ve only managed to turn that into four shots with only one of them being a somewhat legitimate chance (it was in fact a very good chance). Atleti’s goal that was called back for offside only serves as a reminder that as well as you’re playing, you’re just one bad moment away from being on the wrong side of things.
United’s lack of creation wasn’t too much of a surprise. They’ve consistently struggled to create chances against low blocks over the last two and a half season when they only have one of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba on the pitch. That’s especially true when it’s McFred and Fernandes and especially especially true when Luke Shaw is missing as well.
What was really confusing was how quickly this team lost their heads again. United had 45 minutes to find an equalizer yet from the moment the second half kicked off they played like they only had 10 minutes left. This team has been behind/level plenty of times over the past two years yet they always managed to stay calm, keep playing their game, and they often found their winner. That was even true in the early part of this season when they typically played like crap most of the match. Yet somehow since Ralf Rangnick took over they seem to lose their nerve as soon as something doesn’t go their way and their response is to start playing more chaotic which rarely pays off. Frankly it’s odd.