Man United still struggling with their most embarrassing loss of the season
Which football result has stung you the most? Mine was Barcelona 4-0 Manchester United in 1994. It shouldn't stand to reason -- suspension and UEFA's controversial foreigner rule meant United were without two of their best players, Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel. And is there a shame in losing at Camp Nou against the brilliance of Romario and Hristo Stoichkov? It wasn't a final -- or even a knockout game -- but you can't help how you feel.
And since when has football done the rational or logical? I went to that game with 50 mates as part of a 114,500 crowd and it was the perfect European away trip...apart from the result.
There have been many more awful results -- two of them involving Barcelona in European Cup finals. Losing is part of football, but two weeks since it happened, that Sevilla result still stings. One player describes it as "the biggest punch" the team have had since Mourinho took charge. Defeat certainly knocked the stuffing out of United's season far more than any other result, including the December derby loss.
Had United done what Leganes -- who had won only two of their previous 16 games -- did four days later and beat Sevilla, fans would be buzzing, with a trip to Munich to look forward to as well as Wembley for an FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham -- apart from United's horrific form at Spurs away.
But the team and all those big-name players went missing when it really mattered. Players bought to stand out on big occasions were nowhere to be seen until the last 15 minutes of 190 minutes of football. They flopped, massively. And, sadly, that has become the norm for United in Europe's top competition -- that's if they even manage to reach it. United, the biggest club in the world on turnover and support have made it to one European Cup quarterfinal in the past seven years -- a staggering underachievement. Barcelona have reached seven, Madrid the same.
United used to have those levels of consistency, but no longer, not while the team concludes a fifth year of transition -- shorthand for not being good enough to win the league. How long is it going to go on for? Speak to many fans, and they'll be happy to see another half-dozen players moved on. Does the team look like it can win the league next term? Not really.
So what happens now with less than two months of the season remaining? What should be the most exciting part of the season will be a sideshow at United.
The real action, once again, will be away from Old Trafford, those huge Champions League away matches in Spain and Germany. City and Liverpool will play two high-profile games, while United's good news will be manufactured, like last week's announcement that the team will launch a professional women's side . Because United are so big, that makes headlines, just as news of season ticket prices largely being held once again will. It makes a change from Jose Mourinho's every controversial utterance taking prominence.
There's the highly unpalatable prospect of City winning the league at home to United on April 7. The 3,000 United fans in the Etihad would rather wave inflatable bananas than watch City lift a fifth title which will put them on a quarter of United's total. It would be highly amusing if United won, but there are shades here of United getting a result against Liverpool so many times in the 80s -- despite Liverpool being by far and away the best side.
Or could some good come if City won the league against United, from their success being rubbed into the faces of United players? Those United players at Sunderland when City won the league in 2012 still maintain that it gave them all the incentive they needed to come back stronger. They still wince when that afternoon is mentioned.
I visited Rafael (interview coming soon), now at Lyon, last week and he picks that out as his worst moment in six years at United, when Sir Alex Ferguson told his players: "You're never going to forget this day."
Yet the way he and his team reacted was impressive, as they dug deep and were champions 12 months later with Rafael one of the best players.
"In every single game I played that season, I remembered what Fergie had told us in Sunderland," said Rafael. "It was horrible, we remembered people laughing at us," he recalled.
United need to finish the season strongly for Mourinho to retain the significant support he has from fans. Beat Tottenham and then win the FA Cup would be a start, as would finishing in second with 80-plus points. It won't bring the two trophies of last season, but Mourinho could again claim a success of sorts. It's not just about him, though. Several players are playing for their future -- if they play at all.
The United players admit they didn't do themselves justice in Spain; they were horrified by their performance in Manchester. Wasn't everyone outside of Andalusia? The players still believe in the manager -- he's much more popular than Louis van Gaal -- but some of them need to start believing more in themselves, to raise their game.
United's non-international players have started returning to Carrington after a few days off. Ander Herrera, who wasn't selected for Spain, flew into Manchester on Ryanair (no priority boarding) from a weekend in Zaragoza, where with his mates he watched his beloved Real Zaragoza play.
After five years out of Spain's top flight, they were on a six-game winning run as they pushed for promotion. They played Sevilla's B team, who are going down and had lost their previous 10 league games. A decent 22,000 crowd showed up in Zaragoza ...who then lost 1-0. Herrera was left cursing Sevilla for a second time.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.