Manchester United and arch-rivals
City were outplayed and comprehensively beaten by teams with far
more limited resources in the Europa League on Thursday.
United lost 3-2 at home to a fearless and skilful Athletic
Bilbao, their second successive European defeat at Old Trafford,
in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie.
Central defender Xandao scored with a cheeky backheel to
give Sporting a 1-0 win over City in Lisbon, ending the Premier
League leaders' run of six straight wins.
Valencia, 4-2 winners over PSV Eindhoven at home, and
Atletico Madrid, who beat Besiktas 3-1, completed an excellent
night for Spanish clubs.
A Luuk de Jong penalty gave Twente Enschede a 1-0 win at
home to Schalke 04 and Olympiakos Piraeus won by the same score
away to Ukraine's Metalist Kharkiv thanks to David Fuster's
second-half strike, the Greek champions' ninth successive win in
AZ Alkmaar beat Udinese 2-0 and Standard Liege were held 2-2
at home by Hannover 96 in the other ties.
United, beaten 2-1 at home by Ajax Amsterdam in the previous
round, have won only once in five European outings at Old
Trafford this season.
"We were well beaten, they were the better team," manager
Sir Alex Ferguson said in a television interview.
"Our defending wasn't very good tonight, our attacking play
was very open at times."
Athletic took the game to United, pressuring them in their
own half in a style which has become the trademark of their
eccentric Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa who led Chile to the
last 16 of the 2010 World Cup.
Although Wayne Rooney gave United a 21st minute lead, it was
completely against the run of play and Athletic continued to
push forward, creating numerous chances while Bielsa paced up
and down his technical area, immersed in thought in his
The equaliser came in the 41st minute when a well-worked
move ended with Fernando Llorente ghosting in to meet Markel
Susaeta's chipped cross with a powerful low header.
Athletic's fans outsung the home supporters and were given
more to celebrate in the 71st minute with a superbly worked move
which ended with Ander Herrera flicking the ball over the United
rearguard for Oscar De Marcos to hook the ball in with a first
That goal had also been on the cards and it got worse for
the hosts with a bizarre third which stemmed from a free-kick
awarded to Bilbao because United defender Patrick Evra kicked
the ball after his left boot had fallen off, infringing the
Athletic swiftly attacked and De Marcos' shot was parried
by David de Gea. Although there seemed to be no Athletic player
in sight, Rafael was caught napping and the always dangerous
Iker Muniain stole in to fire the ball into the roof to net.
"I don't know how you describe the third goal," said
Rooney pulled one back with a injury-time penalty to keep
United in the tie, although the task of scoring at least two
goals at a hostile San Mames stadium is a daunting one.
City, who like United parachuted into the tournament after
being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage,
were also upstaged by a fluent passing team.
Much of Sporting's play was orchestrated by Matias Fernandez
and the only goal came in the 51st minute when a dipping free-kick from the Chilean playmaker was parried by Joe Hart to the
feet of Xandao.
His first effort was also blocked but the ball
rebounded to the Brazilian defender who backheeled it between
the keeper and the post.
City looked more dangerous after Mario Balotelli replaced
Edin Dzeko in attack and Xandao was also the hero in injury-time
when he blocked Sergio Aguero's goal-bound shot with goalkeeper
Rui Patricio beaten.
Eduardo Salvio scored twice in three minutes to put Atletico
on their way against Besiktas at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid
and Adrian Lopez made it 3-0 before half-time.
Simao Sabrosa gave the Turks some hope when he replied in
the second half.
Roberto Soldado also grabbed two first-half goals, including
a penalty, after Victor Ruiz had opened the scoring as Valencia
raced to a 3-0 half-time lead against PSV.
Pablo Piatti added a fourth but the complexion of the tie
changed completely when Ola Toivonen, from another penalty, and
Georginio Wijnaldum replied in the last 10 minutes.
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