Premier League champions Manchester United suffered a 2-1 defeat at Athletic Bilbao‘s San Mames last night, to exit the Europa League 5-3 on aggregate.
It was the second time United have suffered defeat at the hands of the Basques after Marcelo Bielsa’s side beat them 3-2 at Old Trafford in the first leg.
I think I have only ever seen United outplayed so badly in Europe against one team, that was last season when Barcelona took them apart in the final of the Champions League.
Athletic outplayed United for virtually the home whole game. You could even argue that the Basques outplayed the Red Devils at Old Trafford in the first leg. Athletic’s performances were reminiscent of Barcelona.
The score line didn’t tell the full story of Bilbao’s dominance in this match. Muniain and Co. could have scored six or seven. However they didn’t take all their chances in front of goal and it’s a good job for United.
Maybe if Fernando Llorente hadn’t of went off injured Bilbao could have been celebrating an even bigger victory over their illustrious opponents.
The fact that Bilbao outplayed Manchester United, who are English champions is not just worrying for United fans but for everybody else in the English top flight. As champions Manchester United are supposed to be the best that English football has to offer.
The fact that they may also end up as English champions this season is even more concerning. The gap between the top English teams and their Spanish counterparts seems to be growing. The two defeats reflect very badly on the state of the Premier League.
A lot of fans believe that the Premier League is the best in world. After seeing United being beat so easily by the seventh best team in Spain questions must be asked about how good the Premier League really is.
The biggest worry for me would be the difference in technical ability between the sides. Every single Athletic player could use the ball effectively yet United players gave the possession away so cheaply. Bilbao are playing football that now seems to be the norm in Spanish teams.
Teams that can keep the ball, constantly press opponents and players that actually pass to their teammates! Manchester United couldn’t do any of those last night and simply didn’t have the answer to the superior ability of the Athletic Bilbao players on the ball.
Athletic are currently seventh in La Liga but are enjoying an exceptional season. The league is very tight and they are currently fighting for a Champions League spot under their unconventional coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Several players in Athletic shirts last night are up and coming world stars. The likes of Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Javi Martinez have all already been linked with big money moves. Marcelo Bielsa could have problems keeping hold of his best players this summer.
Llorente has long been linked with a move to giants Real Madrid. Muniain is rated as the next biggest player to come out of Spain. The 19 year-old has also been linked with Real but also been linked with Barcelona.
Javi Martinez is also an interesting player. He started he career off as a central-midfielder but has reverted to more of a central-defensive role under Bielsa. Martinez has previously been linked with a move to Manchester City and I don’t think he would look out of place in that City team.
Under Marcelo Bielsa Athletic Bilbao have made big progress this season. He is regarded as an eccentric but the Argentine is obviously doing something right at the club. They are a great team to watch and I would love to see them clinch that fourth spot in La Liga and play in the Champions League next season.
For Manchester United they can now concentrate on challenging for the Premier League title this season. However big changes need to be made to the playing staff if Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are going to get anywhere in Europe next season.
Their European campaigns have proven to be a nightmare this season and it would be a disaster for English football and United if there was a repeat next season.
Which Athletic Bilbao star would you like to see playing at your club next season?