Inglorious Champions League exit extends Red Devils’ long wait to claim silverware

Inglorious Champions League exit extends Red Devils’ long wait to claim silverware
Manchester United's Edinson Cavani reacts during the Uefa Champions League round of 16, second-leg match between Manchester United and Atletico Madrid in Manchester, Britain, on 15 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / PETER POWELL)

Manchester United’s silverware drought, which dates back to 2017 when they won the Europa League under legendary Portuguese manager José Mourinho, will continue after they were dumped out of the Uefa Champions League by Spanish champions Atletico Madrid.

A Renan Lodi header condemned the Red Devils to 2-1 aggregate defeat after the first leg had ended one-all.

Since the defeat, the Manchester side have now been eliminated from six of their last eight Champions League knockout stage ties, having previously won 13 of their previous encounters at this stage of the competition. They are also out of the FA Cup and not in contention for the league – caught in a scramble to finish in the top four.

“It is too many years without any trophies,” goalkeeper David de Gea said after the side was knocked out of the Champions League. “We need to be clear; we want to achieve good things. We need much more from everyone because this club is too big for where we are now. We are far from the fighting places for the Premier League, for the Champions League, so we need much more from everyone.

“This is where we are at the moment. It’s a difficult situation. We have to keep fighting. I feel very sad. But we were not good enough. We are really disappointed with the result. It’s difficult to put into words how we feel at the moment. We did not do enough in both games to win it.”

It was an honest dissection of the team’s displays from the goalkeeper, whose performances have been one of few shining lights of the Red Devils’ performances in recent years. The result also means Cristiano Ronaldo will end the season without a trophy for the first time in 17 years.

To compound the team’s problems, they will likely face some disciplinary action from Uefa, the custodian of European football, after their fans pelted Atletico manager Diego Simeone with various objects at the final whistle of the game at Old Trafford.

Simeone sprinted towards the tunnel at the end of the game and had plastic bottles, drinks and other items thrown at him.

Christian Pulisic of Chelsea during the English Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea FC in London, Britain, on 19 February 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Vince Mignott)

Best of the rest

Chelsea, operating under a special licence from the British government after sanctions on club owner Roman Abramovich, are through to the quarterfinals. The Russian billionaire’s assets were frozen by the UK after his country’s invasion of Ukraine. The Blues beat French champions Lille 2-1 to secure a 4-1 aggregate victory, thanks to goals from Christian Pulisic and captain César Azpilicueta. Manager Thomas Tuchel hailed the reigning European champions’ fighting spirit, especially in the face of the uncertainty the club finds itself in.

“We are all competitors and I always experienced, from day one, a very competitive spirit and club. I think it’s so clear what Chelsea demands from every employee and player. So, play your role and play to the limit,” said the German mentor.

In Amsterdam, Benfica shocked the in-form Ajax Amsterdam 1-0 to clinch a memorable 3-2 aggregate victory over the high-flying Dutch side. With that, they reached the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2015/2016 season. The Eagles have not advanced beyond the last eight since finishing as runners-up in 1990.

Ajax came into the last 16 tie boasting an impressive scoring record, with only Bayern Munich bettering the 20 goals that they netted in the group phase. They were also one of just three teams to end the group phase with a perfect record, alongside the German giants and Liverpool.

Benfica, however, were able to take their chance and dump out the four-time European champions through the head of Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez.  

“We knew we were going to suffer and we did. We had to enjoy it when we had the ball. I am tired. We all ran a lot,” said Núñez after his team’s hard-fought win.

Elsewhere, Villarreal scored three late goals to secure a stunning 3-0 Champions League second-leg victory at Juventus, condemning the Serie A side to a 4-1 aggregate loss and a last 16 exit for the third successive season. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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