Atletico Madrid drove the final nail in the coffin of a miserable season for Manchester United as Renan Lodi’s header sent the Spanish champions into the Champions League quarter-finals with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford to progress 2-1 on aggregate.
The Brazilian full-back headed in unmarked at the back post four minutes before half-time to end United’s last chance of silverware this season as their drought without a trophy since 2017 goes on.
United have spent £1.4 billion ($2.54bn) on transfers over the last 10 years (by ESPN’s Rob Dawson), and since 2011 have won just two Champions League knock-out ties.
The Red Devils now face an uphill task just to get back into the Champions League next season as an under-performing squad filled with star names sits fifth in the Premier League.
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Atletico’s own struggles to break into La Liga’s top four this season have shown up their limitations.
But the experience of Diego Simeone’s men in the Champions League knockouts shone through as they comfortably saw the game out to reach the last eight for the sixth time in the last nine seasons.
Cristiano Ronaldo had consistently been the scavenger of Atletico in the Champions League, twice landing the ultimate blow in final defeats to Real Madrid and scoring a hat-trick for Juventus to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit at this stage three years ago.
However, Simeone’s men finally got one over on the 37-year-old as he failed to have any meaningful impact on the tie.
And there were sickening scenes at full time as Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone was pelted with objects by the furious United crowd.
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UNITED TORN APART BY COUNTER-ATTACKS
Joao Felix had scored five times in his previous five games, including Atletico’s goal in the first leg, finally starting to deliver on his 120 million euro price tag.
The Portuguese had the ball in the net again at the end of a slick Atletico move that cut through a leaden-footed United defence, but Marcos Llorente was flagged offside from Koke’s pass before he squared for Felix to apply the finishing touch.
United did not learn their lesson as they were again easily opened up down their left for the decisive goal.
The home fans were still screaming for a foul on Elanga in the Atletico half when the visitors fed the ball forward to Felix, whose backheel found Antoine Griezmann and his cross picked out the unmarked Lodi to head home.
Atletico resorted to the tried and tested tactics of Simeone’s reign in the second half as they were happy to sit on their lead and were not unduly troubled by a United side lacking in ideas.
MAGUIRE BOOED AFTER LATEST HUMILIATION
Captain Harry Maguire was substituted in the 84th minute to ironic boos from the home fans as United coach Ralf Rangnick desperately searched for an equaliser.
But it was veteran midfielder Juan Mata who was a surprising replacement for the struggling central defender. Mata had hardly featured this season, without a single minute in the Premier League.
But United made little impact on the Atletico defence, forced to bomb the ball into the box in the final 20 minutes and creating little of note.
It came after United legend Paul Scholes declared Maguire’s recent form as an ‘absolute disaster’ ahead of the game, questioning why Victor Lindelof was not replacing him in the starting line-up.
Scholes said on BT Sport: “The manager has shown faith in him to keep playing him considering the form he’s been in. For me, the worry is what does this say about Lindelof? Lindelof, when he’s played, has done okay, nice and steady, not many mistakes. It seems everything Harry is doing has turned into an absolute disaster.”
It was not the only interesting substitution for United.
Ralf Rangnick made the brave call to withdraw Bruno Fernandes 23 minutes from time as he emptied his bench in search of an equalizer with Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani among those thrown on.
Another bizarre substitution saw the struggling Marcus Rashford brought on in the second half, only for the young English forward to hardly make an impact.