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Manchester United players slumped to the turf at full-time in Germany on Tuesday in acknowledgement of what their latest pedestrian first-half display had cost them.
The 3-2 loss at RB Leipzig means United will not be one of the 16 teams in the draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
And this is not the only price for failure.
The damage will be felt in the accounts, in the dealings they have with current and potentially future players and in the faith the fans have placed in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
With Paul Pogba’s agent angling for a move for his client and ex-United defender Phil Neville speaking of a “witchhunt” against his former team-mate Solskjaer, BBC Sport looks at the ramifications and reaction to a big loss for United.
A decade of Champions League failure
Solskjaer took ownership of Tuesday’s loss, one which means he is now the first manager of a British club to lose six of his first 10 matches in the Champions League.
“We didn’t perform as a team well enough. We never got going,” he said. “That is the manager’s responsibility.”
However, the Norwegian’s record is just a continuation of United’s poor form in Europe since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the club.
Since finishing as runners-up in 2010-11 under the Scot, who had previously won the tournament twice during his reign at Old Trafford, the Red Devils have not made it past the quarter-finals, last reaching that stage in 2018-19.
Their win percentage in the Champions League over the seven seasons since Ferguson left is 45.71%. In the seven years before that it was 61.33%.
|Man Utd in Champions League – under Ferguson and since|
The failure to get out of the group stage on this occasion is perhaps easier to defend than in 2014-15, when they finished third behind Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven and 2011-12, when Benfica and Basel beat them to qualification.
But it remains a disappointment to a side that would have hoped to finish above one of RB Leipzig or Paris St-Germain, especially after beating both in their first two Group H games.
However, while the Europa League is scant consolation right now, it does offer United a further opportunity for European success, in a competition they won four seasons ago.
United lose pounds and possibly Pogba?
BBC Sport’s Simon Stone:
Amazingly, since reaching the final in 2011, United have won only two individual Champions League knockout round matches, in 2014 when David Moyes’ side came back from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Olympiakos and in 2019, in that amazing night against PSG, when Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty overturned a two-goal defeat from the first leg at Old Trafford.
But apart from the football side – and more inevitable questions about Solskjaer and his ridiculously inconsistent team – there are also the financial consequences to think about.
Had United reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, they would have earned themselves an additional 21m euros (£19.04m) in prize money alone. Reaching the same phase of the Europa League will get them 3.1m euros (£2.81m). These sums will actually be higher because of the distribution of the central market pool but that only serves to widen the gap.
Through the size of their stadium, United are suffering more than most from the continued absence of fans – currently in excess of £100m since the pandemic began – so missing out on this lucrative revenue stream hurts.
It will sharpen minds before next month’s transfer window, as Mino Raiola agitates for the cut-price sale of Pogba, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo hang around on huge salaries without getting near to the first team and Solskjaer looks for reinforcements to strengthen his squad.
‘A witch-hunt to get Ole out of a job’
Six wins from 10 league games has left United sixth in the Premier League table, five points behind leaders Tottenham with a game in hand. Hardly the record of a failing side.
They have made a habit, though, of falling behind in games before rallying to win, including their past two league games – at Southampton and West Ham.
They did the same on Tuesday, going 2-0 down inside 13 minutes to goals from Angelino and Amadou Haidara, before Justin Kluivert scored a third.
This time they were unable to recover, despite the best efforts of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
It will further fuel the dissenting voices to Solskjaer’s position as manager, although ex-United defender Phil Neville was quick to defend his former United team-mate.
“I think there is an awful narrative – the minute United lose a game it seems a disaster. It’s not a disaster, it’s a disappointment,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily Podcast.
“There are United teams in the past with better managers than Ole that have gone out at this stage and there are managers in the league that are below United that don’t get the same stick that Ole gets.
“The narrative inside the club is far different from outside where there seems to be a total witch-hunt to get this boy out of a job.”
‘We didn’t perform’
United’s manager and captain made no excuses for the defeat.
“We spoke about what they would do early in the game,” said Solskjaer. “We needed to manage it and we didn’t manage it well enough.
“We did everything we would normally do in preparation. We know that everyone wants to be up for a game like this. Sometimes it takes players 15-20 minutes to get going but maybe we are not streetwise enough.
“Today it didn’t work for us. Of course we were up for it. The character and effort I can’t fault.”
United captain Maguire echoed these sentiments.
“We started the game too slow,” he told BT Sport. “It wasn’t good enough – the first 20 minutes we weren’t at it. They put two balls in the box and we failed to deal with them.
“We have to look at ourselves, we gave ourselves too much to do. You’ve seen how close we came at the end but we started too slow and we can’t keep falling behind.
“We said on Saturday at half-time, 2-0 down, the next goal is crucial and we said it again tonight. They made it 3-0 and the task becomes even bigger. The third goal proved to be the crucial one but even three down we came close at the end.
“I don’t want to look at excuses. We have to go out and be aggressive, win balls. That’s the basics. If you can’t defend crosses you’re going to lose games. I don’t want to look at shape – it’s not an excuse.
“It’s a tough group but we felt we should get through. That’s the standards of this club. I’m gutted for everyone, we worked so hard to reach this competition. No matter what group we got it would be tough. We have to do more.”
Source: BBC Sport