Like a bandit after a robbery, Diego Simeone fled. The Atlético de Madrid coach, dressed as always in black from jacket to tie, ran along the touchline to the exit with his head down as soon as the final whistle sounded. Though angry Manchester United Football Club fans hurled numerous mugs of beer at him, Simeone had already escaped into the cockpit tunnel, unscathed, and with the fat loot, alone with Atletico in the usual cunning. Glorious United won the Champions League to have a snatched quarter-final.
With 1-0 (1-0) in Manchester, Atlético was the first club -and therefore Simeone, who has worked there since 2011, also as head coach- to have the three previous champions of the English category (Liverpool, Chelsea and now United) in a knockout round of this premium competition. Following a 1-1 draw in Madrid three weeks ago, a meager goal in the second leg was enough to see the Spanish champions through. This game-winning goal from Renan Lodi (minute 41) actually felt like a small steal for United, because the marvelous goal was preceded by an arguable duel: Atletico’s Reinildo Mandava had stopped United striker Anthony Elanga with impunity in winning the ball.
Referee Slavko Vincic’s generous line recognized Atlético cheated in the early stages when goalkeeper Jan Oblak misjudged a cross in a duel with Elanga – but was fouled for his shouting. So it was understandable that United manager Ralf Rangnick later referred to “some strange decisions” including the “clear foul” on Elanga before 1-0, but without these offenses ultimately being “decisive.” “for failure, as Rangnick admitted.
Too often, however, Vincic succumbed to the “time-consuming antics” of the guests, in which, in the familiar fashion, “someone” was always rolling on the floor, lambasting Rangnick. Therefore, the only four-minute stoppage time was “a joke”. On top of that, the referee seemed to fall into the trap of ending the game immediately, as Simeone deliberately ordered all the men on the substitutes’ bench to the touchline at full force to shake up the finish.
Scholes deals again against the coach. But the underlying problem is the composition of the template.
United’s resentment was also centered on the referee because, given his own superiority, there was probably nothing else to blame besides missed opportunities. The good structure of the game in the first half showed the extent to which Rangnick had shaped United’s lopsided side in his three-month tenure. However, United’s second-half struggle against ever-deeper defenders revealed the legacy the club has accumulated since permanent manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
The most striking effect is the team’s lack of physicality and the resulting lack of penetrating power on offense. Aside from Cristiano Ronaldo’s six goals, no other United player has scored more than one goal in eight Premier League games this season.
Although Rangnick continued to strengthen his attack as the game progressed with his substitutions (Pogba, Rashford, Cavani, Mata), hardly anyone could hold their own against Atlético’s robust defence. Not even the exceptional striker Ronaldo, who would probably score goals forever due to his talent, but at the age of 37 he is no longer successful in the decisive phase of the Champions League. It was only the third time in their impressive career that the Portuguese had failed to score in a top-tier game, which was also due to unusable supplies. Apart from his compatriot Bruno Fernandes (seven assists), a reliable assist provider is missing.
Paul Scholes, one of Manchester’s perpetually annoying pundits who once played much better football than he now analyzes games, but on the microphone BT named another culprit for United’s fifth successive titleless season. Scholes went on to say that United would have won “with the experienced Simeone at the helm.” According to Scholes, it’s not “obvious” to him how Rangnick, who was employed as an interim coach until the end of the season, could have been selected for the job. As a result, the most important thing now is to find a “right” coach for a team that has “real talent.”
Scholes is wrong in this controversial analysis, because the problem at United is exactly the other way around: When this already damned season ends, which only ended lightly with the renewed qualification for the Champions League in the league, the club is given a lot less in the election of the coach than in the restructuring procedure of the squad.
Players would need to be scouted to get a clear idea of the game, after too many rival trainers have been playing recently. To advance planning, it would be to their advantage if United agreed a manager for the future in a timely manner. With this personal issue still undecided but urgent, the club around the American Glazer family often tended to football coaches with a proven track record in the past.
Rangnick could enter into a conflict of conscience when looking for a coach
But this time, the two-year consulting deal concluded with Rangnick beyond the summer could prove decisive in the search for a team leader. If the clause wasn’t meant to be a pure decoy for Rangnick, then roster composition would come within his area of responsibility. Rangnick would have no choice but to fill the team with several ambitious professionals willing to work and find a suitable coach.
But in this quest, the 63-year-old could have a conflict of conscience because he would probably prefer to continue his work with the team himself. Formally, the decision-making power on this issue rests with chairmen Avram and Joel Glazer, as well as new managing director Richard Arnold, who took over in February from the resigned Ed Woodward. Football boss John Murtough and manager Darren Fletcher also have something to say. Both are in close contact with Rangnick and have already pushed his activities in December.
Despite the disappointment of failing in the Champions League, Rangnick proved to be a fair loser. After the press conference, he congratulated his rival Simeone with a handshake and wished him well. After that, Simeone finally went on the run.