Man United knocked out of UCL by Wolfsburg

According to Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s trip to Wolfsburg on Tuesday was the biggest match of his United coaching career. The Red Devils went into the fixture needing a win to guarantee a place in the Champions League Round of 16. Their opponents, on the other hand, had one of the best home records in all of Europe. Before a 2-1 loss to Dortmund over the weekend, Wolfsburg’s home fans hadn’t witnessed a loss at the Volkswagen Arena in more than a year. Could the Red Devils overcome their recent offensive struggles and stay alive in Europe’s top competition?

It was almost a disastrous start for the visitors as André Schürrle found himself alone on the edge of United’s penalty area. The German international rushed his chance, however, as his first time volley flew over David De Gea’s net and into a boisterous Wolfsburg crowd. Schürrle’s missed chance would quickly come back to bite Wolfsburg as United found the opening goal on the ten minute mark. A slicing ball from Juan Mata found a streaking Anthony Martial, and the 20-year-old Frenchman took a touch before slotting his close range effort past a sprawled Diego Benalgio. The euphoria of Martial’s early goal would be short-lived, however, as Wolfsburg replied less than five minutes later.

A foul by Daley Blind near the half line gave Wolfsburg a seemingly innocuous set piece opportunity. Swiss international Ricardo Rodriquez sent in a flighted service into the area and Wolfsburg’s towering center back, Naldo, delivered a beauty of a one-touch volley that left De Gea helpless and quickly put the hosts on level terms. In the 27th minute, it looked like Marouane Fellaini had given United the lead, but his header from the corner was stopped on the line by a brilliant save from Benalgio. Just as Schürlle’s missed chance was punished earlier in the match, Fellaini’s chance would come back to bite United. Less than three minutes later, a brilliant team goal from Wolfsburg saw Julian Draxler tear apart the United defense with a clever one-two on the edge of the area before playing the ball to Vieirinha for the easy tap-in. 2-1 Wolfsburg.

For the remainder of the half, the two sides traded chances but neither could find a finishing touch. On the stroke of halftime, the Red Devils were momentarily back on terms thanks to a Jesse Lingard cross that may have made contact with Juan Mata on the way through before finding the back of the net. Celebrations were short-lived, however, as the assistant referee raised a late offside flag having determined that Mata, who was in an offside position, was involved in the play despite not looking to have touched the ball.

The first real chance of the second half came on the hour mark. A scramble in the penalty area saw a close-range effort from Mata blocked, and Memphis Depay’s ensuing scissor kick expertly denied by Benalgio. Minutes later, a mistake from De Gea scramble back to his net after misjudging a long ball from Dante. Schürrle nearly capitalized on a rare lapse in judgment from the 25-year-old, but the United keeper came up with a dramatic leaping save to tip the German’s effort wide of the net.

De Gea would have to come to United’s rescue once again in the 66th minute denying Schürrle once again with a reflex save from close-range. Memphis had a chance to score an invaluable equalizer for the Red Devils with a free kick right on the edge of the penalty area in the 73rd minute, but the Dutchman’s shot fizzed just wide of the Wolfsburg net.

The Red Devils finally found their long-awaited second goal in the 82nd minute. A corner kick from Daley Blind found the head of Fellaini whose initial header looked to be an easy save for Benalgio before Joshua Guilavogui’s attempted clearance deflected the ball over his keeper and into the net.

Everything was looking good for the English club going into the final ten minutes of the match as they were level with Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven were level with CSKA Moscow in the group’s other fixture. This sense of security was once again short-lived as Naldo crushed their hopes and dreams just two minutes after Guilavogui’s own-goal. The Brazilian found himself on the end of a corner kick and placed his header past De Gea and a sliding Martial to put Wolfsburg in the lead once again. On top of that, PSV’s Davy Propper thundered home a winner against Moscow that would force United to score two goals in the final minutes of the match if they were to advance.

The Red Devils had a series of close calls in the closing minutes of the match, but none found the back of the net and Van Gaal’s men crashed out of the Champions League. The result saw Wolfsburg finish top of the group with PSV claiming the other spot in the Round of 16. United will now have to compete in the Europa League. To add to this disappointing result, the Red Devils also added to their long injury list as defenders Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian both suffered knocks in the match that will likely see them miss the club’s weekend match against Bournemouth.


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