After being knocked out of the premier European club competition that is the Champions League, Manchester United and their ‘noisy’ neighbours Manchester City were relegated to the less glamorous Europa League competition.
They entered the competition as one of the senior clubs and were expected to stroll through. No one would have predicted that both teams will fall by the roadside and fail to make it to the quarterfinals.
Having nervously edged out Ajax 3-2 on aggregate, United were drawn against Spanish side Athletic Bilbao, while Manchester City who mauled Porto 6-1 in the round of 32 were drawn against Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon.
As it turned out though, that was the furthest the two teams could move. Manchester United crashed out after losing both their matches against Bilbao. The Premier League table-toppers suffered a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. Any hopes of a comeback were dashed just after 23 minutes as Fernando Llorente put Bilbao ahead with a superb volley.
United were 2-0 down and 5-2 behind on aggregate five minutes after the hour mark when Oscar De Marcos pounced on a rebound and struck past De Gea off Johnny Evans’ outstretched foot.
Rooney’s 22-yard cracker only served as a consolation as Bilbao won 2-1 in front of their supporters at Estadio San Mames, ending United’s dismal campaign in Europe with a 5-3 aggregate loss.
Their city rivals Manchester City didn’t have a good outing either. Boasting a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon knew facing Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled side at the Etihad Stadium was going to be a herculean task.
But as the teams went for the half time break, the score on the Etihad scoreboard looked like a myth. The green and white Sportinguistas were leading… wait for it… 2-0 and 3-0 on aggregate. Matias Fernandez hit a sublime freekick from 25-yards before Ricky van Wolfswinkel doubled the lead five minutes before the interval.
The Blues came fired up for the second half with Kun Aguero scoring a brace either side of Mario Balotelli’s 75th minute penalty to make it 3-2 on the night but nothing could save Sheikh Mansour-owned club from bowing out to the Portuguese side, 4-3 on aggregate.
Chelsea is the only English team remaining in any of the European competitions. Arsenal, Birmingham, Tottenham, Stoke City, Fulham and the two Manchester clubs found the going too tough this time round.
A few months ago, it looked like Manchester City would win anything and everything there is to win. But now, they can only fight for the Premier League title with Manchester United. Come May, one of the two clubs would have finished the season empty-handed. Who would have thought?
And That's thesteifmastertake!!