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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Champions League exit rounds out miserable Man Utd season

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“We’re not good enough,” admitted Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, given the fact that the Red Devils will now go five years without winning a trophy.

A 1-0 loss at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday saw United bow out of the Champions League in the round of 16 and the last chance to win the silver medal from a miserable season slipped away.

The dejected reaction to the final whistle as Atletico manager Diego Simeone ran down the Old Trafford touchline to celebrate contrasted with the jubilation that greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming of a 4-1 win over Newcastle in September.

Ronaldo’s return to the club where he first made his name as a global superstar was supposed to make the difference in his bid to once again compete for major trophies.

After finishing second to Manchester City in the Premier League last season, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane had already signed for more than £100m when Ronaldo turned down City’s advances in the last days of August.

Instead of a return to the glory days that Ronaldo experienced with Alex Ferguson before his world-record move to Real Madrid in 2009, he has succumbed to the decline United have been in since Ferguson left as manager in 2013.

Caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick is United’s fifth manager since the legendary Scot stepped aside with the club that used to boast of being the best in the world, now relegated by local rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

Since Ferguson led United to a third Champions League final in four years in 2011, they have spent £1.2bn on players to again win just two ties in Europe’s top club football competition.

For the fifth consecutive year, United’s European season was ended by Spanish opposition.

But this version of Atletico is a far cry from the teams that reached two finals in three years between 2014 and 2016 only to be thwarted by Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.

Like United in the Premier League, Simeone’s men face a battle in the closing months of the La Liga season just to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

However, they held off with ease after Renan Lodi completed a well-crafted counterattack to open the scoring four minutes before halftime.

“We were fully aware that against this team you have to score the first goal yourself,” said Rangnick, fully aware of his own team’s limitations.

Ronaldo had consistently been Atletico’s scourge in the Champions League in years past, also scoring hat-tricks to knock them out for Real in 2017 and Juventus at this stage in 2019.

However, the competition’s all-time record goalscorer has now retired in the last 16 in the last three years.

The 37-year-old has finally started to show his age in recent months and for the first time completed 90 minutes in the Champions League without registering a shot.

Whether Ronaldo stays for the second year of his contract at United will largely depend on whether they manage to reach the Champions League next season.

However, cutting their losses looks like the best solution for both sides as United face another costly and extensive rebuild under a new manager.

kca/jc

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