Whilst it may have made for brilliant watching as a neutral, at times it was hard to watch as a United fan as Athletic Bilbao piled on the pressure and whilst the game finished 3-2, it could easily have been worse.
David De Gea continued the good form shown in recent games by making a number of top draw saves that helped keep the score down, and us in the game. It’s amazing to think that he was getting so much stick earlier in the season when you see him putting in performances like the one last night.
Javier Hernandez is slowly getting back into the swing of things but last night what we would have done to have had last season’s sharpshooter back. The Mexican had a few chances where you could see some of the rust he has acquired whilst sitting on the bench.
Slowly and slowly he is shaking it off though, perfect as we enter the business end of the title race.
Here are 5 thoughts on last night’s game:
Whilst Manchester United have been very poor in Europe this season, last night it has to be acknowledged that Bilbao were brilliant. The question continually asked was ‘When will they slow down?’ Unfortunately they didn’t and kept up a brilliant pace for the whole 90 minutes.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise though, following their game with Barcelona Pep Guardiola remarked,
“They all run up … and they all run down again. Up, down, up, down, up, down.”
But it wasn’t all bluster and bravado. Amidst their energy and industry was some very good football as seen by their second goal where neat passing dissected our defence, and though De Marcos was offside, he finished wonderfully to cap a marvellous move.
Much has been made about Bielsa’s almost obsessive preparation, and last night it told as Bilbao set up well offensively and defensively. Next week’s second leg will prove a tougher test as we have to get a win in the caldron like San Mames but it won’t be impossible as they have won just 6 of their 13 home games in La Liga.
If Athletic Bilbao’s performance was good then their fans were brilliant. The largest away contingent brought to Old Trafford for a European tie, they sang constantly and drove their team on. At times you thought the tie was taking place in Spain as they swang their scarves and belted out chants.
If 6500 (I believe there were more than that) fans could do that in Old Trafford, next week in Basque country United are in for a torrid time as they step into the lion’s den (Bilbao are known as The Lions Of San Mames), something made worse by the fact United need to overturn the deficit if they are to make it into the quarter finals.
Our Approach To The Europa League
I genuinely believe that Sir Alex isn’t taking this competition seriously. Initially he spoke negatively of the Europa League but appeared to have a change of heart, and his feelings have been echoed by the players, most recently Michael Carrick. But at the same time you have to look at how we have approached the competition.
This is by no means a slight on Athletic Bilbao who I have already hailed as brilliant but our team selection has said a lot about our intentions. We used the Ajax games to field those who need minutes and had just come back from injury, and against Bilbao we rested key players whilst some were left out of the team completely. A midfield pairing of Jones and Giggs and later Park and Giggs wasn’t likely to be tearing up trees especially against a team as good as Bilbao.
Even if we aren’t taking it seriously, I doubt anybody will complain if we go out of this competition as it will mean we can focus on the league.
European Form, Form In General
Whilst we can complain that our European form has been poor, for the past few weeks our play in general hasn’t been great. Both performances against Ajax, Norwich, Spurs and last night we haven’t quite looked ourselves. Passing wise, in terms of our shape and approach we have been out of sorts.
Last night aside we haven’t been made to pay by any of our opposition but we can’t keep nonchalantly approaching games and expecting to come through them unscathed. It has been said that we have a fairly easy run of games coming up following a tough spell, but teams like West Brom won’t be a walk over if we play as poorly as we have.
As the Premier League finishing line nears we need to pick up our feet or we may end the season trophy-less.
Last round it was said that we were using the tie against Ajax to scout Christian Eriksen, this time around it was Javi Martinez’s turn and it is fair to say he passed with flying colours.
Although we would be looking to bring him in as a midfielder he was operating as a center back last night and looked equally as adept in that position. He did well to neutralise the offensive threats United presented with snappy interceptions, but just as impressive was his distribution having won the ball.
Strong, he looks to get stuck in and is disciplined but knows when to drive forward – he seems ideal! Time to get De Gea texting him as Mertesacker did Podolski for Arsenal.
Athletic Club played well yesterday so you could highlight a number of players but I also though Herrera was brilliant. He was impressive at the European u21 Championship last summer and whilst in the build up the likes of Martinez, Muniain and Llorente were getting all the praise, Herrera played just as well if not better than them all.