Double woe for Manchester in Europa League; Bilbao shock United while City undone in Lisbon
Man United 2-3 Athletic Bilbao
In a wonderful European encounter that served as a vindication of the quality of the Europa League, Manchester United and Athletic Bilbao produced an entertaining, engrossing encounter at Old Trafford, to the delight of the neutral.
Fielding a strong line up that included Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Javier Hernandez and Phil Jones, the home side were faced by an enterprising, improving and daring Basque side in the shape of Bilbao. Having placed the Argentine coach, Marcelo Bielsa at the helm, Athletic have developed into one of the most promising teams in Europe, boasting stellar talents with the likes of Iker Muniain, Javier Martinez, Ander Herrera, Oscar de Marcos and Markel Susaeta. Flourishing beautifully under the guidance of Bielsa, one of the world’s best and most underrated coaches, this young and tactically astute side, spearheaded by the excellent Fernando Llorente, have a lot to offer and could go very far. Particularly, in this season’s Europa League.
United started with plenty of energy and dangerous intent, typically dominating possession and pressing their opponents with the cavalier directness so synonymous with the Theatre of Dreams. Bilbao though, were eager to prove that they weren’t here to play bit parts, even on the most dazzling and intimidating of stages.
United took the lead via a Wayne Rooney tap in, only for Llorente to power home a thumping harder just before the break. With Fergie’s hairdryer treatment rumoured to be heard all the way over in London, many would’ve expected the home side to regroup and surge forward to regain the lead. However, Athletico are brilliant on the ball and on the counter and the impressive De Marcos proved as much in the 72nd minute, finishing cutely, following a flowing move. Not content with two-away goals, the boys in green helped themselves to a second as Muniain smashed home from De Gea’s parry. United though, gave themselves a glimmer of hope with Wayne Rooney’s penalty, thus taking two goals into the second leg.
Sporting 1-0 Manchester City
A beautiful back-heeled goal from Sporting’s Xandão sent the Portuguese punters at Estádio José Alvalade into hysterics, as the home side fought to a 1-0 victory against Premier League highflyers, Man City.
The Sky Blue Mancunians put in a stuttering performance that ultimately led to defeat, compounded by the loss of the talismanic Vincent Kompany early on.
Defeat leaves City with the difficult but surmountable task of overturning a 1-0 deficit against a side with plenty of European pedigree. While losing in Lisbon ends City’s fine run of form, there remains a number of reasons to be optimistic.
Nevertheless, City manager, Roberto Mancini, may come in for some criticism, following his team selection. Choosing to leave Micah Richards out of the squad, Mancini opted to confine Mario Balotelli and Samir Nasri to the bench, somewhat curiously deploying Gael Clichy at right back.
Whether or not such changes were as detrimental as some might claim, the away team were slightly underwhelming. Balotelli did, however, come off the bench to strike the bar, but City would ultimately succumb to a postcard goal from Brazil.