There was a time when finishing bottom of a group would be unthinkable for Manchester United but not now. Not only is it not unthinkable, it’s barely a surprise. What should worry and United’s millions of fans around the globe is not that they’re out of Europe altogether, but that they exited with such little fuss.
In truth the damage was not done tonight, and United knew at 8pm on Tuesday that they needed a minor miracle to progress to the knockout stages. They only have themselves for somehow managing to muster four points from four matches against Copenhagen and home and away.
But even in the circumstances this was a whimper of an exit. Though Bayern boast a star-studded squad that United don’t, they are not the European giant of old, and they had already qualified as group winners before tonight. They were beaten 5-1 by on Saturday.
But, after a nervy first half when Bayern dominated but neither side looked overly keen on winning, United’s lack of quality was exposed when Ten Hag threw caution to the wind and left space in behind United’s midfield for Bayern to operate.
It was a risky strategy, and in fairness it nearly paid off moments into the first half when Bruno Fernandes squandered United’s best opportunity of the game by skying Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross over the bar.
But, just as murmurs of Copenhagen’s lead in the Danish capital began to circulate Old Trafford, it was as if Bayern decided they had had enough. They rotated the ball around United’s area, waiting for a moment to pounce and the moment came for Harry Kane to play in Kingsley Coman, who made no mistake from inside the area.
If that burst United’s bubble then it barely registered. Supporters already seemed resigned to an exit and the side didn’t look close to scoring all night long.
Ten Hag’s decision to throw on the likes of Hannibal and Kobbie Mainoo in the closing stages hardly suggested the Dutchman felt there was a route back into the match. If anything, he wanted legs in midfield just to keep Bayern at bay.
After working so hard to get back into the competition last season, United have exited with a whimper. The same happened under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, and we all know how that ended.
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