Man United not good enough in Europa League exit at the hands of Liverpool
Manchester United left the Europa League with a little more pride than their showing in the first leg promised, going out 3-1 on aggregate to Liverpool. The Red Devils were aggressive from the opening whistle, Marcus Rashford pressing as well as any United forward this year, and wholly deserved the opening goal of the night, delivered by Anthony Martial from the penalty spot.
Yet after bustling through the first half, they were caught cold by Philippe Coutinho's superb individual effort right at the break, and his away goal so sharply stopped United's momentum that it completed the scoring for the evening. Louis van Gaal's initial selection -- he left Morgan Schneiderlin on the bench throughout -- was a confusing one, as were his substitutions, sending on two full-backs and a defensive midfielder as United chased the tie.
And so it ended Manchester United 1, Liverpool 1. Despite some purposeful attacks and periods of impressive intensity, the home team were just not good enough. This has been the case for much of this year.
Player ratings (1-10; 10= best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK David De Gea, 7 -- He seems to make at least one extraordinary save per match. This time, he got down to save a low drive from Coutinho -- most goalkeepers would have been unable to move in that situation. Outmaneuvered by the Brazilian for the tie's decisive goal, a chip at his near post, but it could only take an elite finish to beat him in this form.
DF Guillermo Varela, 5 -- Removed at the interval following a half in which he looked ambitious but ineffectual in attack and outclassed at the back. Coutinho -- who until then had had a poor match -- humiliated him in a one-on-one situation, and the young full-back will hopefully come to see this as no more than a painful learning experience.
DF Daley Blind, 6 -- His delivery from deep and wide positions was a key feature of United's ascendancy in the first half. A good outing, though his passing was less perceptive as the game progressed.
DF Chris Smalling, 6 -- Stepped up the pitch well, as usual, though at times he did so without ensuring there was sufficient cover in behind. His proactive attitude, like that of Blind, was essential to United's strong opening.
DF Marcos Rojo, 6 -- In defence, he was a touch erratic compared to his colleagues at centre-back, but got forward well and threatened to score in the first half. Withdrawn after he faded in the second period.
MF Michael Carrick, 6 -- His prompt passing set the tone in the opening stages, finding the feet of his forward players with ease, but he could not help his team regain the initiative after Coutinho's goal.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 6 -- A much-improved performance from his previous match. He looked confident in possession, moving the ball around the pitch smartly, and went close with a second-half header. Collected a yellow card, which after a series of awkward challenges, felt inevitable.
MF Juan Mata, 6 -- Found himself out on the right flank; his passing, pressing and movement was sharp, but he could not conjure a decisive moment for his team.
MF Anthony Martial, 7 -- Ran tirelessly at his man, and his penalty -- which he earned -- was a just reward for his efforts. On a better night, he would have scored again, spurning a chance in the second half, but he emerged with great credit from this game.
MF Jesse Lingard, 6 -- Worked hard as ever, getting himself in dangerous positions, but he lacks the ruthlessness that characterises the very best attackers. A player of his ability should have scored the clear header that he had early on in this match.
FW Marcus Rashford, 7 -- Like Martial, was an endless source of energy in attack, and United could have made more of his intelligent movement and startling acceleration. Probably dribbled into trouble one too many times, but it is that same enterprising nature that could make him a decisive player for several seasons to come.
DF Antonio Valencia, 6 -- Could not quite add the impetus that United badly needed down the right flank, but his return -- in his first game since October -- was an extremely welcome one.
DF Matteo Darmian, 6 -- A surprising substitution at a time when United needed to push forward aggressively. Added little in attack.
MF Bastian Schweinsteiger, NR -- Did not impose himself on the game as he has done when introduced in similar scenarios earlier this season. Earned a yellow card for his trouble.
Musa Okwonga is a football author, poet, musician, broadcaster and social commentator. He is on Twitter @Okwonga.