Belfast Telegraph

Woeful Manchester United hit rock bottom as they lose to Midtjylland

Midtjylland 2 -1 Man United

By Tim Rich

Sitting in freezing conditions in a tiny stadium in a small town in Denmark, watching a team that had not played a competitive game in more than two months outplay the self-styled "biggest club in the world" and paying £71 for the experience. It is hard to imagine a worse or more embarrassing night in Manchester United's long European history.

They may reverse the result in the second leg at Old Trafford but it will be a long time before the memory of Midtjylland is washed away. It is not just a low, it is rock bottom.

But for the brilliance of Sergio Romero, who had been drafted in as a late replacement once David de Gea had injured himself in the warm-up, United would have conceded four, possibly five.

Yes, Louis van Gaal does have a whole team injured - De Gea was the 13th to be forced to the treatment room - but if United are true to their boast of being the biggest club in the world, then they should cope.

If the manager of Real Madrid oversaw a performance of this ineptitude on a stage that small, he would be sacked on the spot. These days, United are only big in terms of the vast revenues they rake in. On the pitch, they are bankrupt.

They had only one hero and he was an unlikely one. This was Romero's first game since the defeat to Middlesbrough in the League Cup in October.

This was not a new experience; he had kept goal for Argentina in the World Cup final despite being essentially Monaco's reserve keeper. Romero has the supreme ability to switch on to a game however long he has been on the sidelines.

And yet United were facing a team that specialises in set-pieces that are drilled and studied in "set-piece lounge" by Brian Priske.

The United fans who arrived here in Herning in their busloads would have felt safer with De Gea. Instead, Midtjylland's goals came from play that from a defensive point of view was laughably open and they watched Romero deny two certain goals.

The first set-piece was a long throw which scuttled through the United box. But much more danger was to come.

Filip Novak's corner was met by Kian Hansen's powerful downward header and Romero, falling backwards, palmed it away with one hand. At this early stage and with United in fragile condition, it was a priceless intervention.

Another came a moment before Memphis Depay put United ahead. The Red Devils, who had poured forward, left themselves so exposed that Vaclav Kadlec, pursued by Northern Ireland ace Paddy McNair, could either pass to set up a goal or shoot. Kadlec shot, and Romero saved.

Moments later, United had the lead and an away goal. Jesse Lingard and Depay had troubled the Danes with their pace and Lingard delivered a low cross that the Dutchman, falling as he made to shoot, did not connect with cleanly. His touch was, however, good enough to send the ball past Mikkel Andersen.

Soon after, though, Michael Carrick gave the ball away and Pione Sisto pounced.

Midtjylland have rejected offers of around £5m from Ajax for the 21-year-old. Arsenal are among the clubs monitoring his progress.

Any scout would have admired the way Sisto exploited Carrick's error. As he ran along the 18-yard line, space opened and he drove home a powerful shot.

Paul Onuachu, like Sisto, is 21 but came to Denmark from Nigeria rather than Uganda. Standing 6ft 7in tall, he possesses the build of a basketball player and he used his height to send a cross towards the top corner of Romero's net. Somehow, it was pushed away.

He was not to be denied for long. Midtjylland's second was very similar to their first but it was Onuachu who exploited a mistake, this time from Juan Mata, the first time anyone noticed he was on the pitch.

Once more United's defence showed too much space to a striker and were rewarded by the swish of ball striking net.

The little stadium erupted. Midtjylland's symbol is the Jutland wolf and the PA system played the sounds of howling as Onuachu slid to the ground crossing himself.

Most United fans, contemplating the remaining dregs of the season, would want to make similar appeals to the almighty.

Belfast Telegraph


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