No sooner had Manchester United secured progression into the last 16 of the Europa League with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over St. Etienne than multiple football pundits declared that the Red Devils were hot favourites to win Europe’s second-tier title.
It is easy to see why, with the likes of Inter Milan, Villarreal, Fenerbahce and Shakhtar Donetsk already out of the competition and the remaining teams like Roma, Lyon and Schalke lacking the European pedigree that United possess.
The field does seem a bit shallow – but the Europa League is a tricky competition and the same pundits who are now clamouring for a United win weren’t too keen on looking back to the similar positive odds they gave to Tottenham before the London side were outmanoeuvred by gritty Gent in the round of 32 stage.
While United might indeed be favourites, the fact remains that it doesn't take a big name side to eliminate United in this competition. Nine times have the Red Devils tried to win Europe’s secondary continental crown and each time, they have failed to succeed.
This list takes a look at the nine teams that eliminated United from the Europa League in the past.
#1 Liverpool – 2015/16 Europa League Round of 16
Eliminated from the Champions League group stages last season, Manchester United entered the Europa League at the round of 32 stage. Louis Van Gaal’s United had to endure a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Danish Champions Midtjylland before prevailing 6-3 on aggregate to reach the next round.
The Round of 16 draw doesn’t offer same-nation exclusion and United drew Premier League rivals, Liverpool. The first leg at Anfield ended 2-0 in favour of the Reds with Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino beating David De Gea.
Needing victory by at least two goals in the second leg, United struck first through Anthony Martial. But a wondergoal from Philippe Coutinho on the stroke of half-time meant that Van Gaal’s men would need to score three more goals for Europa League survival. They couldn’t manage a single one and the tie finished 3-1 to Liverpool on aggregate.
United would bow out whereas their great rivals would go on to beat Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal to set up a title clash with two-time defending champions Sevilla – who would proceed to thrash Jurgen Klopp’s men 3-1 to retain the crown.
#2 Athletic Bilbao – 2011/12 Europa League Round of 16
A torrid 2011-12 season saw Manchester United lose the Premier League title to Manchester City courtesy of injury-time goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero on the last day of the season. Their record in Europe was nothing to gush over, either. Eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages by Benfica and lowly Basel, United went down to the Europa League and were instantly awarded the ‘favourites’ tag.
They huffed and puffed past Ajax in the round of 32, despite the Amsterdam side beating United 2-1 at Old Trafford. The round of 16 saw United draw Athletic Bilbao, with the Spaniards having eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the group stages before struggling past Lokomotiv Moscow on away goals in the first knockout round.
Bilbao visited Old Trafford for the first leg and it seemed to be business as usual when Wayne Rooney put United ahead in the 22nd minute. But Fernando Llorente put Bilbao level a minute from half-time and the visitors proceeded to score two more before Rooney reduced the deficit in injury time.
United went to the San Mames Stadium needing a victory by two clear goals in the second leg, but Llorente again punished the English side in the 23rd minute and when Oscar De Marcos put Bilbao’s second goal past Alex Ferguson’s men, the Basque side were 5-2 up on aggregate with just about 25 minutes to go.
Needing four goals to go through, the English champions could only manage one against Marcelo Bielsa’s side – who were on 33 points and six places behind Spanish League leaders Real Madrid at that stage - and were out of Europe by mid-March.
Athletic would go on to reach the final of the competition where they would be beaten by Atletico Madrid 3-0 with two goals being scored by future United man, Falcao.