Disappointing Failure for Manchester United in the Champions League

Manchester United’s return to the Champions League was supposed to be a testament to Erik ten Hag’s transformative capabilities, cleaning the cobwebs off the dilapidated Old Trafford.

It was meant to prove that United had reclaimed their place after the errors and sufferings of the Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho eras – despite Mourinho winning the League Cup and Europa League – and, more recently, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ten Hag even secured tangible success with a League Cup victory in his first season. However, if this disastrous Champions League campaign is any indication of Manchester United’s current status and their manager’s capabilities, the great transformation is now closer to being a total failure.

This has been a distressing campaign, a harsh dose of reality that saw United finishing at the bottom of a group they would have welcomed when the draw was made, behind Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen, and Galatasaray.

The Champions League is an unforgiving environment, exposing every flaw of United, and they certainly have plenty. It all concluded in the most feeble manner, with a United side that should have been aggressive losing 1-0 to a Bayern side with nothing at stake. Ten Hag’s players managed only one shot on target in the process.

This is a far cry from the Old Trafford nights of the past when fans were glued to their seats until the final whistle.

Thousands of United fans had already given up and left long before the end, and who could blame them?

‘United’s Champions League comeback has been a shambles’
Statistics condemn United, highlighting the lack of organization, tactical acumen, intelligence, and basic quality that characterized their return to the Champions League and most of their season.

United’s four points from six games are their lowest in any Champions League campaign, while the 15 goals conceded are the most by a Premier League side in any group stage of the competition.

Various inquests into this dismal failure can be conducted, but the bottom line is that this Manchester United side is not fit for the purpose of success – a problem exacerbated by their uncanny knack for shooting themselves in the foot at the worst possible times.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana had a nightmare campaign, at fault in the 4-3 loss away to Bayern, poor in the home defeat against Galatasaray, and simply awful in the 3-3 draw with the Turkish side in Istanbul, gifting Hakim Ziyech two goals from routine free-kicks. That result ensured that even a victory here against Bayern might not have been enough for United.

As it turned out, United never even threatened to keep their end of the bargain.

Few tears were shed when goalkeeper David de Gea left United after 12 years last summer, but Onana has done nothing to suggest that the Spaniard has been adequately replaced.

United held a two-goal lead before losing 4-3 in Copenhagen and twice held a similar advantage before sharing the points when visiting Galatasaray.

There was a lack of discipline as Marcus Rashford was sent off with United 2-0 up in Denmark, the inexplicable catalyst for a collapse from a position of control to another damaging defeat.

All in all, United’s Champions League comeback has been a shambles.

Old rivals Bayern put them out of their misery. In reality, United’s Champions League return was probably washed up even before a ball was kicked on a miserable, forgettable occasion.

Bayern didn’t even have to break sweat
On a night when United needed to at least show a willingness to save themselves, they managed only five shots. Five shots on a night when victory was a must.

Yes, a first-half groin injury for captain Harry Maguire and a hamstring problem that meant Luke Shaw could not come out for the second half hampered their efforts, but there can be no excuses. This is a desperately poor team when set against the standards Manchester United aspire to.

This was not even a classic Bayern side. Good but not great – certainly not a team you would risk a huge amount on in terms of them winning the Champions League.

Bayern, however, were still able to deal with United without breaking a sweat in a game that was actually neither here nor there for Thomas Tuchel’s team. You were left with the impression that if there had suddenly been something riding on this for the Bundesliga champions, they would have been able to slip through the gears and dismiss United without too much fuss.

If there were any flashes of pace and urgency, they actually came from the side that did not even need to show it.

The home fans were remarkably patient given the meagre fare on offer. The jeers at the final whistle were more in resignation than anger.

United have proved a few things throughout this ill-fated campaign. None of them good.

Finishing bottom of the group ‘the right outcome’
Manchester United have proved that for now, they do not belong in this elite company. Their final position in Group A does not do them a disservice. It is the right outcome. They proved the likes of Bayern, Manchester City, and Real Madrid are out of their league.z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z

And at the heart of it all is Ten Hag, facing an increasing struggle to tame this unwieldy football beast, looking more and more like a manager who is sinking, scrambling to make sense of how those slivers of optimism from last season have been so quickly replaced by despair and despondency.

Ten Hag must seek improvement in another unforgiving environment, at Anfield on Sunday against Premier League leaders Liverpool, who inflicted a historic 7-0 thrashing on United last season.

And he will almost certainly have to do it without the injured Shaw and Maguire, along with injured captain Bruno Fernandes.

If United hoped coming back to the Champions League stage would offer confirmation that they were edging back towards the top table, the fact they were not even good enough to secure the safety net of consolation offered up by the Europa League tells them exactly where they actually stand.