WOLFSBURG (Germany) • Embarrassing. Manchester United deservedly departed the Champions League on Tuesday, following their 2-3 loss to Wolfsburg, because they defended like amateurs, not like elite professionals.
The Red Devils were drawn in an easier group than their rivals Manchester City, yet find themselves in the Europa League. Welcome to Thursdays. Excruciating.
As well as lacking concentration at set pieces, United's team lacked balance and depth. They also lacked a playmaker of the quality of Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg's No. 10 who bestrode this game like a fast-moving colossus.
The German club were worthy winners, scoring twice through Naldo and once through Vieirinha, who finished off a glorious move masterminded by Draxler.
Anthony Martial had started the scoring and Josuha Guilavogui helped out with an own goal. But, with PSV Eindhoven beating CSKA Moscow 2-1, Louis van Gaal's United had to win and there was little chance of that.
Entering stoppage time, United needed to score twice. But, even with former manager Alex Ferguson looking on, there was no repeat of Nou Camp 1999.
The United whom Ferguson embodied, the fighting, attacking, winning club, are no more. They have been replaced by United Lite.
No urgency, no wing play. No game-changing substitutes. No bloody-minded all-for-one spirit. There were few leaders.
There was none of that Ferguson aura emanating from the bench like a manic force-field. Van Gaal sat there, seemingly unable to turn the tide. His United went down meekly.
AT A LOSING END
When you see the circumstances in which we had to play with a lot of injuries and also the last 15-20 minutes with 10 players... you have to analyse that also.
LOUIS VAN GAAL
The Red Devils suffered a repeat of their 2011-12 European campaign when defeat in their final group game at Basel also denied them a place in the last 16.
Van Gaal admitted it was hard to defend himself from growing criticism of his management, especially scrutiny about the team's lack of progress and questions whether the most expensively-assembled squad in English football should be doing significantly better.
"At the moment I cannot defend myself because we are out of the Champions League," he said. "Every word I say is the wrong word.
"When you see the facts we went further in the League Cup, we qualified for the Champions League group stage and we have played all these matches and we are still in a very good position in the Premier League.
"The facts do say we are better than last year. That's my answer."
He offered injuries as an excuse, particularly at full-back where United played more than a half with the inexperienced Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
"When you see the circumstances in which we had to play with a lot of injuries and also the last 15-20 minutes with 10 players (with Chris Smalling struggling from a groin injury) you have to analyse that also," he said. "The circumstances were not good for us."
Van Gaal's own performance received fierce criticism from several former United players.
"They didn't deserve to qualify," Rio Ferdinand said. "The pressure is growing on Louis van Gaal now."
Paul Scholes went even further. "There was no urgency, threat or quality," he said. "United are just an average team and with an average team you get average performances. If you are relying on a 20-year-old kid (Martial), it's just not right."
Wolfsburg made club history by reaching the knockout stage for first time following their 2009-10 campaign when they bowed out in the group stage.
THE TIMES LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE