Wednesday 9 December 2015

An early exit and missed chances... where our Champions League campaign went wrong

United's defeat in Wolfsburg knocked us out of the Champions League but if I'm honest it was the damage done in previous games that signed the death warrant. 

A season's hard work slipped away in 90 minutes on Tuesday but the failure to beat PSV on Matchday Five killed us.

We went into that match knowing that victory would have got us through: we missed a hatful of chances, drew 0-0 and those two dropped points came back to haunt us on Tuesday night. 

Victory in that one would have rendered the Wolfsburg match irrelevant but 20 shots on goal without reward summed up our travails. 

The story of our Champions League campaign was encapsulated in the two games against the Dutch side: in Eindhoven on Matchday One we dominated the game and lost 2-1 with missed opportunities again costing us dear.

Injuries have not helped us either: in that match in Eindhoven we of course lost Luke Shaw to his broken leg and had to play Wolfsburg last night with eight first team men missing in the midst of a crippling injury crisis.

Marginal refereeing decisions also appear to have gone against us: in Holland Nicola Rizzoli did not award a penalty for Moreno's challenge of Luke Shaw.

We had a questionable offside call against Anthony Martial in Moscow and there appeared doubts over Jesse Lingard's disallowed goal last night although on second viewing the ref may have got it right.

But our real Achilles heel throughout the  six matches was the one that has been our problem all season: turning possession and dominance into a cutting edge in the final third. 

As discussed elsewhere, the youthful zest and energy of our attack will stand us in good stead but isn't what we needed for a successful European campaign.
Memphis played Europa League football for PSV last season, Anthony Martial made three brief European appearances for Monaco and this season was Jesse Lingard's first taste of the competition. 

Compare that to the depth and quality of the European superpowers and you can see why we've struggled for goals- inexperience and a lack of a genuine world class match-winner proved our undoing. 

Our away form also proved to be problematic: it's improved from last season but remains an issue under Van Gaal and just one point from a possible nine on the road in Europe put us under too much pressure to perform at Old Trafford. 

The fact of the matter is that we were one goal- or slice of luck- away from going through so was our Champions League campaign really as bad as everyone is making out? 

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