Manchester United learned a hard truth at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. They do not belong in this company. Not at the moment. They are not good enough to rub shoulders with Bayern Munich or Manchester City or Real Madrid or Inter Milan or any of the other teams who will take their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
If anyone needed more evidence that England’s best-supported club can no longer be counted among the aristocrats of the European game, then their anaemic, uninspired, desperately mediocre performance against Bayern provided it in spades long before Kingsley Coman scored the second half goal that eased Bayern to a comfortable 1-0 victory.
Needing to beat the German champions to have any chance of leapfrogging FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray and make it through to the last 16, United could not even keep their part of the bargain against a side that had long ago sealed its place at the top of Group A and had little to play for.
That was one of the most damning things about United’s performance: a Bayern side that was on Easy Street played with more urgency and more purpose and more resolve than a United team that should have been throwing the kitchen sink at this match but instead stood staring sullenly at its pile of dirty dishes.
Their Champions League campaign has been a huge disappointment. They won a solitary match and finished rock bottom of their group. Not only did they fail to qualify for the last 16, they even failed to get a consolation place in the Europa League. The reality is that they did not deserve one.
Manchester United’s Champions League campaign is over as Kingley Coman scored the game’s only goal
United were knocked out of the Champions League after another uninspired performance
United’s struggles have been solidified as they crashed out of the Champions League
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Their struggles leave their manager, Erik ten Hag, in an increasingly uneasy position. United look like a team on the slide, a team getting further and further away from the European elite. He will be given more time to turn things around but it will not be long before even his supporters run out of patience.
All that remains now is a grim struggle to try to make it back into this competition next season. Their 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth at the weekend suggests that that, too, will be an uphill struggle. There was a time when a match between Bayern and United conjured images of the great glories of 1999. Bayern may still be at the top table but this game only served as a reminder of how far United have fallen.
United had started their Champions League campaign this season with back-to-back defeats away at Bayern and at home to Galatasaray. They never recovered. Playing like cavaliers, chucking away lead after lead, they also lost at FC Copenhagen. Their sole victory in the group was their home win over the Danes in October.
Bayern had lost 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend, and those who predicted a fierce backlash from the German champions were given early encouragement when coach Thomas Tuchel picked a strong side despite the fact that Bayern had secured top spot in the group long ago.
It was no surprise that Bayern looked the more accomplished team in the early stages, nor that they should forge the first chances. Kane miscued a snap shot from ten yards out and Leroy Sane should have done better when Noussair Mazraoui played a cross into his path at the near post.
The Bayern fans revelled in United’s obvious nerves, too, and mocked the tension that gripped the ground. ‘Is this a library?’ they sang delightedly but United were totally supine. Midway through the half, Luke Shaw surged forward and unleashed a piledriver that Manuel Neuer punched over the bar with a clenched fist.
The visitors went close again when Sane accelerated through the heart of the United defence before trying to set up Jamal Musiala for a tap-in from six yards out. Musiala was preparing to sweep the ball home when Diogo Dalot came to the rescue with a last-ditch challenge.
Sane should have scored when Kingsley Coman found him with a superb cross to the back post but the former Manchester City winger mistimed his run and got ahead of the ball. Not for the first time in the evening, his wastefulness frustrated his team.
Bayern were the better team on the night despite having already qualified for the next round of the Champions League as group winners
England defender Harry Maguire limped off injured with a groin injury in the first half
England captain and Bayern striker Harry Kane produced another strong performance
Ten minutes before half time, Harry Maguire, who has fought his way back into the United side, appeared to sustain a groin injury and was replaced by Jonny Evans. Evans has been a fine centre half but he is in the autumn of his career and his presence in United’s central defence in a critical game like this was symptomatic of United’s make-do-and-mend recruitment strategy.
United were willing but incoherent. They worked hard but Rasmus Hojlund looked forlorn and isolated in attack and, in the first half, the contributions of Antony and Alejandro Garnacho were fitful at best.
Every time Kane got the ball, every time he delivered one of those crisp, beautifully struck passes, it was impossible not to think that he could, and should have been a United player this season. Again, a club with a coherent transfer strategy would have beaten Bayern to the punch when Kane left Spurs, however stubborn an adversary Daniel Levy may be.
FC Copenhagen were still drawing with Galatasaray but United were not playing with the urgency of a team that needed to keep its side of the bargain by beating the German champions. Ten Hag’s side looked cautious and tentative as though they did not trust themselves to take Bayern on.
They missed a golden chance to take the lead three minutes after the interval when half-time substitute Aaron Wan-Bissaka pulled the ball back into the path of Bruno Fernandes on the edge of the area but Fernandes leaned back as he shot and the ball flew high, high over the bar. The stadium let out a collective groan.
Erik ten Hag’s first European campaign in charge of United ended in disastrous circumstances
United striker Rasmus Hojlund was easily managed out of the game by Bayern’s defenders
United’s fans got another snapshot of a part of the malaise that grips their club when Antony was so busy appealing for a throw-in that he failed to notice the ball had not actually gone out and allowed Alphonso Davies to sprint past him. Too many of these United players scream entitlement.
Just short of an hour, as United huffed and puffed, FC Copenhagen took the lead in the Parken Stadium through Lukas Lerager. At Old Trafford, Bayern still created the better chances of the two sides. Sane wasted another fine opportunity when Davies played the ball into his path but he misread it and allowed it to roll out of play.
Twenty minutes from the end, United got what they deserved. Coman, the game’s best player, danced through the home defence and played a one-two with Kane. He ran on to the return and found himself in splendid isolation as United’s defenders stood and stared.
Coman took his time. He had plenty of it. And then he smashed his shot past Andre Onana to send United out of the Champions League and out of the big time.
Hojlund (right) has enjoyed his brightest nights in red in Europe but was unable to pull off a similar performance on Tuesday
Focus will now turn to ensuring a spot in the Premier League top four with no European ties