Two defeats and one scrappy draw amid a hat-trick of pitiful performances in as many heavyweight bouts showed in no uncertain terms just why Manchester United manager David Moyes lamented over a tough Premier League start for the English champions when the fixture list was drawn during the close-season.
Manchester United fans, players and manager Alex Ferguson will no doubt be fuming for a few more days about the controversial nature of their Champions League defeat by Real Madrid before the club’s attention turns to Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said recently it was his dream to take over as manager at Old Trafford one day and if he fulfills it in the foreseeable future, the 39-year old Norwegian could coach a lethal finisher that is almost a carbon copy of himself from his playing days.
Frank Lampard said he never doubted Chelsea would win the penalty shootout against Bayern Munich in Saturday’s enthralling 2012 Champions League final, although they trailed in the spot kicks after Juan Mata’s early miss, while the hero of their astonishing victory Didier Drogba firmly believes it was Chelsea’s destiny to cover themselves in glory.
If it was a last-gasp attempt by the wily and trophy-laden 70-year old Scot to outfox his Italian counterpart Roberto Mancini, it backfired spectacularly as United were second best throughout the contest and were lucky not to have lost by a bigger margin.
Three weeks ago it seemed the Manchester derby would be little more than a dead rubber after City’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal left champions United eight points clear at the top, in a commanding position to clinch their 20th league title and their fifth in the last six seasons.
Anyone who might have assumed the deteriorating form of English clubs in Europe since Manchester United won the 2008 Champions League resulted from a convergence of misfortunate circumstances such as tough draws or mounting injuries to key players has been emphatically refuted.
The clock said 68 minutes, and no one at the Emirates Stadium in north London was looking at the action on the pitch as the fourth official held aloft his lit-up board to signal the re-introduction of Thierry Henry to English football.
There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.