Alex Ferguson’s Europa Cup title aspiration faulters as Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao really showed up at Old Trafford to deliver a performance of their lives, coming from a goal down to beat the Red Devils 3-2.
Bilbao made early incursions into the area of United and were playing in an organized manner, Llorente looking like the most likely to get a goal for the visitors. Inside 4 minutes of play, Llorente displayed some delectable footwork at the edge of the 18-yard box before firing wide.
Surprisingly, it was the visitors who were dictating the pace of the game as United were still trying to find their feet. Again, it was Smalling who came to the rescue as Llorente threatened, but the fans’ appeal for a penalty was denied by the referee.
Against the run of play, veteran Ryna Giggs did one of his trademark runs partnering well with Mexican Hernandez, but his effort was saved by goalie Gorka Irazioz, Rooney was lurking to ensure the first goal was a done deal.
Usually, a goal would dumpen a team’s spirit but not Bilbao, who continued to attack the goal area of the Red Devils; Llorente’s header goes over the bar and Markel Susaeta’s beautiful chip went wide. It was only on the brink of half-time that their efforts were rewarded with a goal from Llorente after being supplied with the ball by Susaeta.
Llorente continued his impressive attacking prowess in the second half as he sought to increase his personal tally to two, forcing a number of saves from De Gea in the process.
From the way the Spaniards were playing, United needed to do some tactical changes. Anderson came on for Park Ji-Sung, and Giggs was shifted to the left. Smalling was taken off to make way for Michael Carrick, though not a tactical move, it was necassary due to an injury he suffered.
The reshuffling by Ferguson did little to change the course of the game as the visitors continued to punch holes in the defence of the home side. Teenager Muniain and Susaeta started a brilliant attack on the 70th minute through midfield and supplied the ball to Ander Herrera, who in turn found De Marcos. De Marcos did a good job to put the ball past De Gea for the second goal.
Later on, Muniain and De Marcos were in partnership to deliver a painful blow to the fans at Old Trafford as De Marcos’ effort was followed up successfully by Muniain to seal victory for Bilabao after De Gea had failed to deal with Marcos’ ball.
A late penalty from Rooney could only help to narrow the gap and reduce the disgrace suffered by the Red Devils.