Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao: Patrice Evra You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye

At fault for two of the goals last night, the disintegration of Evra's form means that Fergie now needs to find a top-class left-back and bring in replacements for the non-entity of a midfield that failed in Spain...
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At fault for two of the goals last night, the disintegration of Evra's form means that Fergie now needs to find a top-class left-back and bring in replacements for the non-entity of a midfield that failed in Spain...

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I live in India. This invariably means that I live in a country which has more cows than cars, where the internet is slower than Rory Delap, where cricket is the name of the game and where the more fake your jersey is, the better it is appreciated. Breaking from this tradition however, I am the proud owner of Manchester United’s 2010-11 season (original) home kit. Its way too big for me and makes me sweat like a thanksgiving turkey, but I love it. Aside from all the Nike shenanigans on the outside, it has the word ‘BELIEVE’ stitched onto the inside, right behind the MUFC emblem.

For sometime now, Sir Alex has been emphasizing that in terms of European football, United are very near to Real Madrid and Barcelona. After last night’s performance, I’m disappointed say I’ve completely lost my belief in that statement.

Trailing 3-2 from the first leg (in the Europa League no less), Manchester United had a massive mountain to climb if they were to progress anyway, and progress they did not, meekly succumbing to a 2-1 defeat against the 7th best team in the La Liga. Take nothing away from Athletic, they played brilliantly last night and deserved to progress, simply on the basis of desire and effort alone. They won every 50-50, they pounded every single blade of grass on the pitch, they terrorized our defence, shackled our forward(s) and comprehensively outplayed a United side that had reached 3 of the last 5 Champions League finals. After watching their performance last night, I sincerely hope they go on to lift the cup, so that we can at least console ourselves saying “we lost to the best team”.

Athletic combined the best of both Real Madrid and Barca last night - they had Madrid’s relentless pressing (the image of Toquero and De Marcos pressing de Gea in his penalty box even in the 84th minute will stay with me forever) and the Catalans’ joyous tiki-taka passing and movement, which sent the locals into delirium. More than anything, none of the players seemed to be overawed by the occasion, instead, it was United who looked the touch nervier of the two.

Evra’s form has gone the way of Lehmann Brothers’ stock in recent years - off a cliff

To be fair to United, they didn’t help their cause very much. At times they had so less possession that they could’ve referred Marco Bielsa’s side to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and whenever they did somehow win the ball, they immediately gifted it back to the home side with some sloppy passing. United had no midfield of note yesterday with Cleverley looking extremely rusty, Giggs ponderous and Carrick lying too deep. As the match wore on, United were run ragged by the home side. Park who started on the right swapped positions with Cleverley, Giggs spent most of the match in no-man’s-land, Young was increasingly forlorn on the left and Carrick played so deep that fans could have mistaken him for the goalkeeper.

Both goals United conceded were from sloppy defending from one man and one man only. Patrice Evra. Evra went AWOL for the first goal, when Llorente drifted out to the right into acres and acres of free pitch, dragging Rio Ferdinand out of his position. For the second, he failed to track De Marcos (yet again) as the Spaniard sneaked in from the right to smash a deflected shot past de Gea. Evra’s form has gone the way of Lehmann Brothers’ stock in recent years - off a cliff. He’s been poor ever since the last World Cup and shows absolutely no signs of improvement with every game that passes. I can only assume that the only reason Sir Alex hasn’t showered a cascade of hairdryers on him is because he has no significantly good replacement. As for the midfield, our performance illustrated exactly why we are so utterly hopeless without Paul Scholes.

Of course, another major reason for the difference in performance levels could be because of the way the two teams viewed the competition - for Athletic, this is possibly the only trophy they might realistically win this season. They’re also in the finals of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, so hoping to win that might be a bridge too far for this young Athletic side. As for United, they currently top the EPL standings and obviously for Ferguson, title number 20 takes precedence. However, in no way does “we never wanted to win it anyway” makes me feel better. If anything, it makes it worse. Just ask yourselves - if we were still in the Champions League, would you still feel this way?

The end result confirmed what most United fans knew would happen anyway. Bielsa had clinically outsmarted Ferguson. United will now return home to maintain their Premier League challenge, but there is no doubt they received a footballing lesson that will be hard to forget. They have been outclassed by a team that is 33 points(!) behind Real Madrid in the, supposedly, inferior La Liga. I am a United fan and am worried, very worried, about their future European ambitions.

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