From a position of strength, Manchester United have once again managed to mess things up. After four games of the Champions League they had collected nine points, so all that was needed was a single point from their last two matches, but that they could not achieve.
United are out of the competition after what proved to be a devastating first half-hour against RB Leipzig, as they were out-run, out-passed, out-numbered, out-coached, and, crucially, out-scored. On an evening where United should have attacked and gone for victory from the start, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted for a defensive 3-4-1-2 with few creative players. It played into Leipzig’s hands who needed a win to progress. It was only when the damage was done that the visitors mounted a comeback.
Story of the game
Solskjaer chose to go with a three-man defence with Luke Shaw being deployed as the left-sided centre-back. Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay formed the base of midfield with Bruno Fernandes supporting Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood in attack. RB Leipzig’s highly touted centre-back Dayot Upamecano was unavailable through suspension, so club veteran Willi Orban came into the home side’s backline.
But RB Leipzig’s defence were spectators for much of the early exchanges as Julian Nagelsmann’s side started in devastating fashion, taking a two-goal lead in the first 13 minutes. The opener came from the right side. Marcel Sabitzer played a ball in behind the United defence from deep, and it travelled across to Angelino on the left of the area. The Manchester City loanee finished emphatically first time into the goal.
That was in the second minute and for the next 10 the home side were completely dominant. It told in the scoreline when Amadou Haidara scored Leipzig’s second. The Mali international moved the ball across the United area to the far side were space was in abundance. Angelino received and then sent a cross to the back post where Haidara was arriving to place a shot across David De Gea. For a five-man defence there was remarkable space.
United were second-best and Leipzig were having particular success in the duel on the left where Angelino had Aaron Wan-Bissaka in his back pocket. He almost instigated another when he played the ball inside for Emil Forsberg who took a touch before jabbing the ball just wide of the post. On the half-hour mark, the home side also had a goal disallowed for offside when Ibrahima Konate headed against the post and Orban pounced on the rebound.
While all of this was ensuing, Solskjaer’s men were basically watching on. The closest they came was when Greenwood moved into the right channel, switching the ball on to his left foot but his shot was straight at Peter Gulasci who was able to save easily. The visitors did work their way into the game as the half wore on but Solskjaer was right to change to a 4-2-3-1 and bring on the more attack-minded Donny van de Beek at the break.
It worked as United started the second half brightly, in keeping with their recent rather bizarre form of decent second periods following anaemic firsts. Harry Maguire did all he could to reach a whipped Fernandes free-kick but was unable to strain enough. Solskjaer twisted again by bringing Paul Pogba on for Matic. United had to go for it, rather belatedly.
Momentum was United’s. Fernandes shot low and forced the first save from the Leipzig goalkeeper and then the Portuguese playmaker thundered a free-kick back off the crossbar. If that gave the visitors hope of clawing back this match and their place in the next round then Nagelsmann’s side were quick to add the final nail to their coffin and put the affair to bed, or so they thought.
Angelino’s sweeping cross into the area was rather half-hearted with few targets to aim for. However, United managed to deal with the delivery even more half-heartedly. Maguire left it, De Gea exuded confusion by hesitating and this all allowed Justin Kluivert, a second-half substitute, to capitalise and flick the ball into the United net.
But United rallied. Firstly, a coming together between Greenwood and Konate saw the referee award a rather harsh penalty. Fernandes dispatched the spot-kick to the goalkeeper’s right. Nerves then ramped up as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes when a cross was sent into the Leipzig area where Pogba rose to meet it and and direct it goalwards. The ball brushed a defender and possibly Maguire’s raised arms on its was into the net but the goal stood.
The grandstand finish was set but McTominay’s sliced shot, Rashford’s attempt straight at Gulasci and Nordi Mukiele’s stab towards his own goal which was denied by the goalkeeper’s legs were not enough to provide the goal, and the point, that United needed. It was all a little too little too late.