Tuesday, 29 December 2015

United's Year Draws To A Close.

Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0

How the mighty have fallen.

If someone had said at the start of the season that by the time United host Chelsea in the last match of 2015 one would be stuck near the bottom and the other would have failed to win in their last seven games that person would have been locked in the madhouse and the key thrown away, yet here we were.

Down the years, this fixture has had an important bearing on the outcome of the Premier League with each side battling it out in some classic encounters. However, it was more about honour this time round than points. The bottom line was that for both teams this was a match that neither could afford to lose.

Louis van Gaal's United had the lost the previous four matches, three in the league, and in doing so raised question marks over the Dutchman's tenure as manager of the Red Devils. Chelsea's free fall from last year's glory saw them dispense with the services of their 'special one' as they sat in the precarious position just above the bottom three.

For such an important match van Gaal made a handful of changes from the depressing defeat away at Stoke on Boxing Day and his starting XI consisted of: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Herrera, Rooney and Martial.

Out went the dismal duo of Jones and Fellaini along with Carrick and Memphis and in came Darmian, Schneiderlin, Rooney and Schweinsteiger, whose steel had been sorely missed during his three-match ban.

United's intent to silence their detractors was there for all to see as early as the second minute when Mata let fire with a blistering strike from the edge of the area that rattled the visitors crossbar.

It was Chelsea's turn to come close when Terry tested De Gea with a header from a corner that the Spaniard acrobatically turned away. Five minutes in and already it was turning out to be a post- Christmas cracker.

Schneiderlin was the next to come close after Rooney had played the ball delightfully into his path, but his effort bent agonisingly wide.

After fifteen minutes it was all about the home side as they controlled all parts of the pitch in a way that hadn't been seen for many weeks, they just needed a goal to cement their commanding possession rate, but that's easier said than done based on their shyness in front of goal this season.

Next to come within a whisker of breaking the deadlock was Martial who, after some nifty footwork inside the area unleashed a low shot that beat keeper Courtois, but struck the bottom of the post when most in the stadium thought it was in. Including an excited Sir Alex Ferguson who was seen leaping out of his seat.

This was really exciting stuff from United and you wondered why they hadn't been in this form apart from when their backs are against the wall. They were not allowing Chelsea to spend time on the ball and showed a spirit that has been lacking recently.

There was a legitimate shout for a penalty to United as Martial seemed to have been clipped as he weaved his way towards goal but referee Atkinson waved play on. A close call to say the least.

Rooney was a different player in attack and was exerting the type of enthusiasm the faithful hadn't seen for ages and it was the captain who tested the keeper just before the half hour mark with a rasping drive that must have stung the keeper's palms.

The only downside was a yellow card picked up by Schneiderlin for a foul on Willian after a 50-50 challenge apart from that all was looking good for United. They just needed that all-important opener.

During the last ten minutes of the first half, the visitors saw more of the ball, but Smalling and Blind dealt comfortably with the threat of Hazard who continually dived to con the referee into winning free kicks and Smalling fell for his tricks by conceding a foul on the touchline and received a booking for his trouble.

Just before halftime Schweinsteiger obeyed the shouts of the crowd to shoot, unfortunately his strike from distance was always rising over.

Half-time and even though it had been United's best team performance for a long time it was still locked at 0-0. It was the same old problem of not being able to finish off the moves, having said that they did hit the woodwork twice and showed that they could play with width provided by Darmian on the left and Young down the right.

Chelsea were definitely there for the taking in the second half if only United could keep up the pressure.

United kicked off the second half attacking their favoured Stretford End with van Gaal wisely making no changes to the side that had performed so well in the first forty-five minutes.

It was Chelsea who laid down the marker at the start and it was that man between the posts who came once again to his side's rescue with De Gea making an outstanding double save first from Pedro then the follow up from Azpilicueta. Brilliant from undoubtedly the best keeper in the world.

United quickly regained control of the game with Rooney trying to pull the strings up front aided by the hard working trio of Martial, Mata and Herrera.

Hazard was by this time spending more time on his backside than on his feet.

There was almost the opener the home side craved after ten minutes as Martial delivered a superb cross from the byline that Herrera met in the six-yard box, but luckily for Chelsea the ball struck the keeper and it squirmed wide for a corner. The keepers were certainly being kept busy in this period.

Matic had the best chance of the half as he was played clean through only to let the rush of blood go to his head as he blasted his effort high, wide and handsome. It was a similar moment to the effort from Torres when the sides met before.

The home crowd rose to their feet in unison when it looked like Mata had been brought down inside the penalty area, however, not for the first time the official waved away the appeals of the players. So, with Hazard's antics and no decisions going United's way the referee was not making many friends in the stadium, apart from Chelsea's followers of course.

The first change made by van Gaal was in the 69th minute when he replaced Darmian with youngster Borthwick-Jackson. Hopefully, the young defender wouldn't be too overawed by the importance of the match.

At last, justice was forthcoming as Hazard was cautioned for a high tackle on Young.

The second change for United came in the 76th minute when Mata made way for Memphis. At this point, either side could have sneaked the win with United looking the most likely as Memphis almost connected with a cross by Young.

Schweinsteiger showed his commitment to the cause by receiving a yellow card for a professional foul to stop a certain break by Chelsea.

The last throw of the dice by van Gaal was to bring on Jones in place of Blind in defence for the final ten minutes of the match.

A brilliant interchange between Herrera and Borthwick-Jackson down the left wing ended when Rooney hit the young full back's deep cross over at the far post. Great play from the youngster which must have filled him with so much confidence.

In the end, a draw has to be a huge disappointment for United as they had played so well from the start and clearly had the appetite for the fight, but the same old problem rose its head and that is the end result. It's fantastic to watch breathtaking attacking football, but if you can't put the chances away then it amounts to nothing. At least the United players put in the effort and had to count themselves unlucky.

There were many players in red that worked hard for their manager. None more so than Ashley Young, who went about his job as a wing back with great gusto by mounting attacks combined with a couple of defensive interceptions that saved his team at vital moments.

Following the match there will be more calls for a change in management and that will be debated over social media for days to come. At least, the players attempted to right the many wrongs of late and pulled together as a team, which is more than can be said for the so-called fans who wore 'Mourinho United' scarves inside the Theatre of Dreams.

Thanks for reading and a Happy New Year to all.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

United Lack Fight On Boxing Day

Stoke City 2 Manchester United 0

In a week that hasn't exactly seen much Christmas spirit aimed towards Louis van Gaal no amount of mince pies and wine will be able to hold the critics from the door as once again United succumbed to defeat in the most demoralising and depressing fashion.

It was imperative that van Gaal stopped the rot and quickly. So, with that in mind, he chose a side that had the huge responsibility of possibly saving his job. The starting XI he went for was: De Gea, Young, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Memphis and Martial.

Van Gaal produced a surprise by dropping Rooney to the bench and bringing back Herrera. The move could be with one eye on the Chelsea match on Monday or just down to form. With Schweinsteiger serving the final match of his ban Carrick was preferred to continue in the middle ahead of Schneiderlin. Jones was chosen again to partner Smalling at the back with Young continuing his role as the right wing back.

Martial had the opportunity to keep his goal scoring on the rise as he would spearhead the attack with the support of Memphis and Mata.

It was a blustery Britannia Stadium that welcomed both sets of fans looking to blow off their Christmas day festivities and get right behind the two teams. The main concern for the away fans had to be the form of Stoke's mercurial player Shaqiri.

United got the game underway with Fellaini starting the match playing in the number 10 position with Herrera lying deeper in the midfield, which bearing in mind the conditions wouldn't suit any high balls up to the Belgian.

The hosts started the brighter of the two sides as United struggled to get into a rhythm. Once they did get some movement going it was Herrera, who had the first effort from distance that didn't really trouble the keeper.

It was clear from the outset that like most teams playing United this season Stoke were not afraid of a Red Devils team that was clearly short on confidence.

United were guilty of providing the opposition far too much time on the ball and the home side seemed to enjoy running at the visitors with Shaqiri especially in the mood against Blind on the right wing.

Memphis almost sneaked a curling free-kick past Butland at his near post in the 18th minute, then up at the other end within a minute the Dutch winger badly messed up a back header that was so awful it allowed Johnson to set up Bojan to put Stoke in the lead.

Then the pressure was really put onto van Gaal's shoulders after Stoke won a free-kick right on the edge of the area after a handball by Young. The resulting free-kick was played square and up stepped striker Arnautovic to slam home a thunderbolt into the back of De Gea's net to make it 2-0.

Once again, no words could describe the state of United's play to put themselves into the position of being behind after half an hour. They only had themselves to blame.

Memphis did try and redeem himself with another attempt from distance after United had won a free-kick, but after it was parried by the keeper it was the lack of clinical finishing in Fellaini's follow-up that summed up the United team at present, weak and without belief.

Fellaini had another opportunity to grab a goal back, however, not for the first time this season he dithered on the ball at the crucial moment. United did manage to end the half with a flurry of corners, none of which troubled the home defence.

Devoid of ideas in all departments United went in at half-time having not only conceded two goals, but, more worringly, having not shown any of the conviction that is expected from players wearing the famous shirt.

The last time United came back from two goals down to win in a Premier League game was on the same day in 2013 away at Hull City. Just didn't get the feeling that was going to happen in this game.

The second half got underway with van Gaal making the expected change with Rooney replacing Memphis in the attack and at least they started on the front foot showing the urgency needed. Having said that the attacks lacked any fluid movement and were easily cancelled out by the home defence.

Young tried his best down the right wing and one of his attempted crosses was almost met by Rooney's head.

At the back, even the usually reliable Smalling was having a stinker, especially when attempting to play the ball out from the back with passes that we're way too short for his teammates. It really is no coincidence that his level does drop when he is paired with Jones in defence.

Fellaini was presented with a chance on a plate following great work on the byline by Rooney, but his close range shot was straight at the keeper when it looked odds on he would score. Then Mata had a sneaky effort saved under the bar by Butland.

United had the majority of possession after the hour mark, but you got the feeling that Stoke felt comfortable enough to let United come at them, so confident in fact they even withdrew playmaker Shaqiri with twenty minutes still on the clock.

Young saved United from any further damage with a superb interception to prevent Arnautovic getting onto a through ball to score his second. Great defensive play from Young, who to his credit hadn't stopped running up and down his wing all day.

The faces in the away dug out painted a picture that must have been shared by the millions of bewildered fans watching around the world the only difference being the men on the bench had the responsibility of doing something about the situation, but as always they sat unanimated at a time when the side needed leadership. Especially bearing in mind former red Mark Hughes never left the touchline and his team was winning.

For the final ten minutes of the match van Gaal made his last change, of what could very well turn out to be his United career, when he introduced Pereira for Herrera and the youngsters first piece of action was to be cautioned for a professional foul.

Pereira almost instantly made up for his mistake with a pass that provided Martial with a shooting chance that was well saved by Butland low to his left.

Game over and another defeat for the Red Devils with the question being how will van Gaal be able to survive this massive setback after his words of solidarity prior to the match?

Clearly, all is not well in-house and with the home fans taunting the beleaguered Dutch coach by chanting his colleague Jose's name, you really have to wonder if he will indeed call it a day himself and let someone else pick up the pieces.

Over the last season and a half, I for one have championed van Gaal as a manager even though not agreeing with his methods at times. I really believed that with his pedigree as a coach the good times would return to Old Trafford. But after this match, which was an opportunity to put the record straight, even I have to accept that enough is enough and maybe it's time to go forward with a new man at the helm.

However, that man should not be Ryan Giggs as being a legend doesn't suddenly make you a great manager. We need someone special who can reinvigorate and reinvent the side back to winning ways.

Whatever happens, in the next few days, it will be interesting to say the least, especially when you consider who United face at Old Trafford on Monday.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Pressure Mounts On United.

Manchester United 1 Norwich City 2

It never rains but it pours.

Rain lashed Old Trafford couldn't provide a hiding place for Louis van Gaal and his side as the Canaries flew in and stole all the three points to pile the pressure on the Dutchman's broad shoulders.

It should have been a welcome return to the comfort of Old Trafford for United. Unbeaten at the Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League this season they hosted newly promoted Norwich City who started the day in the bottom three so they couldn't possibly have posed a serious threat to United's aspirations.

Wait a minute! That's exactly what everyone said last week prior to the away match to another promoted side Bournemouth and we all know too well what happened there. It is the first time in 69 years that United have lost back to back matches against promoted sides.

This time round, things looked a lot rosier for the home team prior to the match with the return to the side of Smalling, Jones, Young and Rooney, who made a landmark 500th appearance for the Red Devils.

The starting XI was composed of: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Jones, Blind, Carrick, Mata, Fellaini, Memphis, Rooney and Martial.

The expectations from all quarters were high in a fixture that United had won at Old Trafford by the same scoreline, 4-0 on the last three occasions the teams had met.

United started the match in an attacking frame of mind and with Young filling in at right wing-back it provided an option the team haven't had in the last few matches with his forays down the right wing offering width to the play.

The home side thought they had taken the lead as early as the ninth minute after some nice interchanging play on the left-hand side of the visitors penalty area that ended in Rooney sticking the ball in the net only to be ruled offside. However, the intent was there from the home team for all to see.

Carrick was the holding midfield player which was a fairly easy job as Norwich lacked conviction going forward which allowed Fellaini and Mata to be involved in every attack.

As Norwich had clearly come to defend and wait for the counter it was an opportunity for United to push numbers forward to look for that confidence boosting opener.

If anything, United became a little over ambitious in attack with some players rushing the forward pass rather than taking the time to deliver a quality final ball.

As the match approached the half-hour it had all been United who had enjoyed the lion's share of possession and was performing better than in recent outings all they needed was a cool head to steady the ship in the final third.

Blind worked well down the left-hand side and provided some excellent deliveries that in all fairness, both Smalling and Fellaini should have done better with.

Rooney almost played Memphis in on goal with the pass of the match so far with a delightfully curled ball into the penalty area. Then a corner from Blind somehow evaded three forwards who were all waiting to pounce inside the visitor's six-yard box. The Reds were getting closer with each attack.

Then five minutes from half-time Norwich proved that they clearly hadn't read the script and caught United flat footed at the back as Jerome fired the visitors into a lead that nobody saw coming but could not be completely surprised by.

If one player should be blamed for the goal, then it has to be Phil Jones, whose rash lunge into an attempted tackle while Norwich attacked left his side in all kinds of disarray. He really didn't need to commit himself into the challenge and his basic error cost his team and it's not the first time he has been shown up in that way.

Half-time and there was a deflated feeling among the faithful as boos rang around the famous ground as the players trudged off the pitch heads hung, but in all fairness, this had been a better display from United and surely all the forward momentum would pay dividends in the second half to turn the match on its head.

Attacking the famous Stretford End United started the second half in the rain with a point to prove and that was if they had the desire, belief and commitment in themselves to turn things around.

It was the visitors who started the half with a spring in their step as if they had a new found belief that United was there for the taking and it was that man again Jerome, who rubbed salt into United's wounds by feeding his teammate Tettey who toe poked a strike past a despairing David De Gea to put the visitors into a two-goal lead.

Once again part of the problem was Jones who was woefully caught out at the back and was left wanting as Rooney lost possession on the half way line.

An uphill struggle had turned into a mountain to climb for van Gaal's side one that they didn't look like achieving based on recent outings.

The hour mark saw the introduction of fans' favourite Herrera in place of the disappointing Fellaini. A change that was met with huge cheers.

Six minutes later Martial pulled a goal back for United after he had fought well in the box to win the ball and smacked it into the back of the net. After the ball landed at his feet from a Rooney flick the French youngster showed great ball control to work himself a shot that gave the home side a new belief.

Since the introduction of Herrera, United looked a more dangerous side with the Spaniard providing the spark that was needed while his side were on the attack. His compatriot Mata came agonisingly close with a free kick that looked for one second that it would bend low into the net until the keeper Rudd managed to beat it away.

Norwich almost made it three and would have if it hadn't been for a save by De Gea low down to his left following an effort from Mulumbu. At the other end, it was the same old sad story of overhit crosses and wayward passes that blighted United's chances of finding a leveller. Smalling did have one last chance to grab a late point, but it wasn't to be.

The game was a lost cause for United and it now throws up a serious doubt about not only their title credentials, but also on the state of the team and where they go from this point on.

It's hard to put a finger on what the problem is but the pressure seems to be clearly playing on the players' minds as they struggled to break down yet another defence and seemed bereft of ideas which have to stem from the training ground.

Not only are the forwards still struggling to find the net, seven shots on target in their last four Premier League home games, but now the usually reliable defence has started to leak goals. Granted, they had the liability of Jones playing at the back, but even so something is not right when a team of internationals can't beat Norwich at home.

This was United's third defeat in a row and now they are without a win in the last six games it doesn't bode well for the upcoming final fixtures of 2015 Stoke City away and Chelsea at home.

Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Miles Dunton.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Should van Gaal Face The Chop?

People called for the head of King Louis XVI in the French revolution because his power had become the hatred of the people. So is it time for Manchester United to dispense with the services of their manager?

This week social media was alive about whether Louis van Gaal had burnt his bridges at United and many wondered if he would become the latest managerial casualty after a poor week of results, but it was elsewhere that the hatchet fell as Chelsea decided that enough was enough and sacked, Jose Mourinho, to fire fresh speculation that the special one could end up at Old Trafford.

However, there is one problem with that scenario and that is we already have a manager and a proven one at that. Sure, the results haven't been going exactly to plan, but to pull the plug on van Gaal's tenure half way through the season could have worse repercussions for United's present campaign.

Sitting in the top four and within only two wins from the top doesn't count as a disaster just yet. If results are not forthcoming quickly, then the manager's position will become unattainable come the summer, but to call for his head now could be a recipe for disaster.

Once his squad is back to full strength and he can be allowed to add to it in the January transfer window then there is no reason why the team can't put a run together and challenge for the Premier league, FA Cup and Europa League. We have never been a team to back away from a challenge in difficult circumstances and now is not the time to start down that road.

Some may not agree with van Gaal's philosophy, but at the end of the day he got us into this, therefore, he should be given the chance to get us out. There is only a handful of managers with the pedigree to manage a team the size of United and van Gaal is certainly among them.

Everybody makes mistakes and granted many have been made. The biggest being United's elimination from the Champions League, even the great Ferguson experienced that same fate, but he had the backing of all the fans to continue in the position and so should van Gaal, for now.

If at the end of the season there is nothing to celebrate then that will be the right time for the club to weigh up their managerial options and if they decide to begin next season with a new man at the helm then so be it. But for now, the most important thing is for all the fans to get behind the manager and the players even if they don't agree with everything that's going on.

The ball is firmly in the Dutchman's court as he tries to get the team back on track and I for one am willing to stick my neck out and say that at the end of the season we will have something to shout about.

Do we really want to be one of those clubs that bows to pressure and take the easy option of wiping the slate clean? I think not.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

United Plucked By The Cherries.

AFC Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 1

Man United's week went from worse to disastrous as they fell to their third defeat of the league season to a revitalised Bournemouth.

With the amount of players missing United were ripe for the picking by The Cherries and that's exactly how it transpired on the south coast.

After the woes of Wolfsburg, it was supposed to be back to the bread and butter of the Premier League for United and a trip to take on and overpower Bournemouth, but his season has already proven that there are no easy matches and this was in evidence last week when Bournemouth beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Prior to this match, United were still in the mix at the top of the league and desperately needed a win to not only boost their ambitions of becoming champions for the first time since 2013 but to make a statement of intent to their many critics. This meant that the pressure was on for van Gaal and his team to turn things around.

However, with the huge disappointment of exiting the Champions League van Gaal had the difficult task of revitalising his players for the upcoming busy festive period a task made harder by even more players on the sidelines and a three-match ban for the influential Schweinsteiger.

Anybody who thinks the German star got banned on purpose to continue his tradition of a winter break must be very cynical indeed.

The side that van Gaal chose had a mixture of experience and youth as his hand had been forced due to the length of the injury list endured in recent weeks.

The first start for Borthwick-Jackson in defence alongside a back four including McNair, Blind and Varela gave the visitors an unfamiliar look at the back.

That unfamiliarity bore fruit as early as the second minute when the home side took the lead direct from a corner through Junior Stanislas that looped over David De Gea and evaded Martial on the line. A goal that had a breeze and little bit of luck behind it. They all count in the end.

At least United rallied and responded with a few chances and then a goal of their own before the half hour mark. After Memphis had done the hard work Fellaini was able to prod the ball home almost in a kneeling position. United will take the goals any way they can come these days.

As the match progressed it became all too clear that McNair and especially Borthwick-Jackson were in for a torrid time. The pace that is needed for the Premier League was lacking from the youngster at left-back and his positional play had a lot to be desired, especially when chasing back after trying to help with the attacks.

He's young and has time on his side and can only benefit from this experience, but the same can't be said about Blind who clearly struggled as the main defender without his partner Smalling.

He was terribly slow in picking up his man, the eventual scorer, at the corner from which the home side took the lead. If Blind had been more alert to the danger then the goal could have been averted.

The substitution of goalscorer Fellaini for Powell was an interesting choice by the manager to say the least. As United chased the game looking for the draw, they surely needed as much in the way of firepower as they could muster. So, to bring on a player of Powell's ilk was a strange decision, especially as Ashley Young was also sat on the bench.

Memphis once again failed to raise his game and his only telling contribution was in the build up to Fellaini's equaliser add that to the loss of Lingard through yet another injury to a United player and it's no surprise that Martial struggled to get into his stride. Pereira tried his utmost to get the play moving from the right, but in the end it all lacked the penetration needed as both Carrick and Mata had matches they would probably both want to forget.

Not for the first time this season United's style of play had let them down badly. The fact that there were so many missing players is unfortunate and, of course, gave them a hurdle to overcome. But this is Manchester United we are talking about and any player who pulls on that famous shirt has to give their all and in simple terms that didn't and that failure allowed Bournemouth to capitalise on the uncertainty of the United players.

Both manager and players shouldn't offer any more excuses and get down to the nitty-gritty of solving the problems that quite clearly exist within the system the manager is trying to instil in them before it becomes a problem that is too difficult and too late to overcome.

It has been muted in the press this week that Swansea City could be interested in offering their vacant manager's position to United's very own Ryan Giggs. If so, it would represent a very difficult decision for the former wing wizard to make as he must be sorely tempted to further tune his management skills at pastures new especially as it would be a chance for him to prove his credentials as a future United manager.

Some offers are hard to turn down and no fan would blame him for wanting to test himself at pastures new.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Man United's Champions League Nightmare

Wolfsburg 3 Manchester United 2

Disaster in Germany as Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League as they were beaten by a vibrant Wolfsburg and will now enter the Europa League as the third placed team in their group.

Going to Germany with the majority of the first team under doctor's orders meant that van Gaal had to call on all his vast experience in European competitions to guide the Red Devils through the group stage. In the end ıt turned out to be not enough and wıth another poor showing from United they were resigned to the fact that they are just not good enough to feast at the table of the European elite.

The nineteen man squad had an unfamiliar ring to it with many players venturing into Europe for the first time in their fledgling United careers. Included in the mix was Nick Powell, who must have enjoyed being back in the fold for the first time in sixteen months.

The starting XI that van Gaal chose as the players to get the job done was as follows: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Varela, Schweinsteiger, Fellaini, Mata, Lingard, Memphis and Martial.

Varela was handed his first start for United at right back following his league debut as a substitute against West Ham at the weekend. Fellaini retained his place in the side despite a rather mixed performance on Saturday, but there was a return to the starting lineup for Memphis to once again try and warrant his place in the team.

United got the match underway inside a very noisy Volkswagen Arena.

The home side had a great chance as early as the third minute when former Chelsea player Schurrle found himself open inside the area, but he inexplicably fired his shot way over the bar. An early let-off for United and a sign that they were not going to get an easy ride.

United's first effort on goal came from a Mata shot which Fellaini got in the way of but luckily for him he was adjudged offside to spare his blushes.

The opening goal came on ten minutes when Mata was involved again as his defence-splitting pass fed Martial who confidently ran into the area and planted a shot past the keeper to give United the all important lead.

However, it was a lead that only lasted three minutes as the home side immediately attacked and were rewarded when Naldo got in front of the defenders to volley home the equaliser. A soft goal and a rare lack of concentration by the usually tight United defence.

An open twenty minutes with both sides not afraid to attack which for a neutral must have been entertaining. A corner by Blind was met by the head of Fellaini, but it was well saved by the keeper right on the line. At this point of the match, it was all the away side as they looked to regain the lead before half-time.

Then on the half hour disaster for United as Wolfsburg took the lead through Vierinha after the away defence were once again caught cold by the home side who literally passed the ball into De Gea's net.

Once Wolfsburg had taken the lead it seemed that the stuffing had been knocked out of United as they tried in vain to regroup and find a way back into the match. Passes went astray and heads went down. Even the reliable Schweinsteiger was guilty of giving the ball away, but he must have been grateful to see De Gea save from Draxler.

Another injury blow for United as Darmian limped off to be replaced by debutante Borthwick-Jackson just before half time.

Controversy on the stroke of half-time as Lingard's superb effort from distance was ruled out for offside after it seemed the protests from the home side influenced the linesman's decision.

Half-time and the main point of concern had to be the state of the defence as they allowed themselves to look so ordinary to gift the German side two soft goals. In 45 minutes, they had conceded the same amount of goals as their previous nine matches put together.

United offered no width in attack and with the poor contribution of Fellaini who looked uninterested in chasing back and apart from one header he didn't offer anything of substance in attack as at times he didn't look sure in what position he should be playing.

The second half got underway with no changes made by van Gaal.

Memphis was, at least trying his best down the left as he attempted to pick out Fellaini's head with some good crosses. Unfortunately, the Belgian wasn't up to the task of converting the chances.

After ten minutes the match had become stale and the only hope for United would be if the Russians of CSKA could manage a win away to PSV over in Holland. A tall order, but United would take help from any quarter.

On the hour mark, Bengali made a flying save to deny an acrobatic scissor kick from Memphis. Then Mata squared a free-kick to Schweinsteiger whose shot was almost diverted into the net by Mata and Lingard.

United was pressing more, but it was the home side who almost increased their lead when De Gea went walkabouts close to the edge of his area and when an attempted lob looked to be goal bound the keeper somehow managed to scamper back and reach the ball in time.

Martial had an effort straight at the keeper then at the other end De Gea twice denied the home side with a couple of outstanding stops.

Carrick and Powell were the final throws of the dice from van Gaal as they came on to replace Mata and Schweinsteiger for the final twenty minutes of a game that was looking to slip away from the Reds. It was a surprise that Mata was sacrificed rather than the ineffectual Fellaini.

United won a free-kick right on the edge of the box which was just powered wide from Memphis. It has to be said that was a great chance for United to get back into the game.

News filtered through that CSKA had taken the lead in Holland so as it stood United would go through even though losing. As the away fans started to show their excitement at the news, PSV equalised.

As the game entered the last ten minutes it looked increasingly clear that United had to find a piece of luck from somewhere and they found it from a corner which Fellaini headed into the ground and Guilavogui headed into his own net.

At 2-2 United definitely looked good to go through then heartbreak as Naldo restored Wolfsburg's lead and PSV also went ahead in Holland. How fortunes can change in an instant.

Full-time and United bowed out of the Champions League after being outplayed by the hosts who showed the type of spirit that was needed more by the visitors as Wolfsburg twice turned the match on its head after United had scored.

It is difficult to put into words how depressing it is to see Manchester United succumb to a defeat in the fashion that they did in this match. Everything they did was at best ordinary, a word that is not usually associated with this great club, but one that is warranted judging by their displays of late.

The blame has to rest squarely at the feet of van Gaal and his coaches who obviously got their tactics wrong. After taking an early lead then to squander it so quickly is poor to say the least and showed a lack of concentration that is paramount when playing in Europe.

Those lapses in concentration in the defence can possibly be put down to the fact that they hadn't played together as a unit and it showed itself to be true at precisely the wrong moments. However, excuses can't change the result.

Now it is the reality of the dreaded Europa League and Thursday night football. In all honesty, the failure of qualification wasn't decided in this match it was in the failure to beat PSV a fortnight ago at Old Trafford and in failing to do so put United in a position they shouldn't have found themselves trying to get out of. The bottom line is they only have themselves to blame.

Thanks for reading on such a disappointing night.

Miles Dunton.