English giants, Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League after losing 3-2 to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg in a dramatic night at the Volkswagen arena.In a match they simply needed to win in order to qualify for the knockout rounds, United started the brighter of the two teams and managed to find the back out the net as early as in the tenth minute- Juan Mata's sublime through-ball was slotted in calmly by Anthony Martial.But United's lead lasted just three minutes as Wolfsburg managed to fire in an equalizer after winning a set-piece in United's half. Ricardo Rodriguez's stunning ball into the box latched onto by Naldo to make it all square in a sensational first fifteen minutes. It needed a moment of magic from German wonder kid Julian Draxler for Wolfsburg's second as he effortlessly bamboozled the United defense to provide a tap in for Vieirinha at the half hour mark.United were disallowed an equalizer when Jesse Lingard’s shot found the back of the net as Juan Mata was adjudged to be offside by a late decision from the linesman, in which he correctly deemed the Spaniard to be interfering with play.Late into the game United did manage to sneak in an equalizer after Fellaini's header was looped into his own net by Wolfsburg's French midfielder Josuha Guilavogui. But, United failed in their effort to share the spoils after Wolfsburg scored almost immediately from a corner and managed to earn the three points for securing top spot in the group.With PSV Eindhoven scoring late in a 2-1 win away to CSKA Moscow, United needed to score two goals in the dying moments of the game to keep themselves alive in the competition. A task that proved to be a bit too much for the Red Devils, who ultimately finished third in the group and are now demoted to the Europa league.Let us discuss few important pointers from this breathtaking game.
#1 Van Gaal made some bold decisions
In what was a must-win encounter for the Red Devils, Louis van Gaal gambled by making some eye-catching decisions before and during the game. He diverted from his usual policy of playing two defensive midfielders by dropping Michael Carrick to the bench, showcasing a clear attacking intent.
More eyebrows were raised when he fielded young Uruguayan Guillermo Varela in the right-back positionahead of Ashley Young, who was widely expected to fill in the role.
Matteo Darmian added to the growing injury list that United have to deal with when he pulled over in the later part of the first half. Again, van Gaal made a striking call when he substituted the Italianfor Uniteds 18-year old academy product, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. For a player who has featured in just one appearance this season, it was a great show of confidence from the manager in a such a high-pressure game.
Van Gaal then dished out a double change in the middle of the second half- one of which was replacing the influential Juan Mata with Nick Powell who was returning to the lineup after a long injury layoff. With the likes of playmakers like Ashley Young and Andreas Pereira available on the bench, it seemed a strange call to bring on21-year old Powell.
#2 Anything but boring!
United's cautious approach during the entirety of this season has attracted a lot of criticism from fans and pundits alike. Often characterized for playing too many sideways and back passes, the Red Devils were aptly labeled as boring after failing to create many clear-cut chances in their games.
But, knowing that they needed to score in order to remain in the competition, United adopted to an aggressive brand of football that they have known to play famously over the years. Juan Mata was beautifully pulling the strings for the former Premier League champions, playing in the hole just behind the striker.
The little Spaniard showed great composure and presence of mind with his passing and it was his amazing through ball that was calmly convertedby Anthony Martial that the visitors take the lead.
United created plenty of chances in the game, the best of which came to Marouane Fellaini- but his header was brilliantly saved by Wolfsburg's experienced stopper Diego Benaglio. Late in the game, the Red evils looked more likely to score as they bombarded their opponent's box continually. Be it Depays overhead kick or Smallings sliding effort, Wolfsburg's defensewere resolute enough to cling onto their lead.
#3 Wolfsburg\'s attacking instincts proved to be vital
In what truly was abox-to-box encounter, Wolfsburg just about proved to be marginally ahead of their English opponents. Coach Dieter Hecking had declared before he game that his side was not going to sit back in search of a draw and that they will go for all three points against an injury-plagued United line-up. And that is exactly what the Bundesliga team did.
Even though the Red Devils got the better of them during the first ten minutes of the game, the Bundesliga outfit never looked flustered by their overwhelming counterparts. United led for all but three minutes after Naldo slotted in a wonderfully whipped-in ball from Ricardo Rodriguez.
22-year old Julian Draxler showed exactly why he is coveted so much by various clubs across Europe when he effortlessly skipped past the United defense in wonderfully worked second goal for Wolfsburg.
The hosts looked absolutely deadly on the counter attack and had it not been for some prolific saves from goalkeeper David de Gea, Wolfsburg would have surely secured a comfortable win over the Red Devils.
As United got the equalizer late in the second half owing to an own goal from Josuha Guilavogui, you would have expected that the German side to settle for a draw, which would guarantee them qualification. But, Hecking's side surprised everyonewhen they went on the prowl of a third goal. And they got one after just over minute of the equalizer when Naldo latched onto a corner for the hosts.
#4 Smalling defies injury to play as target man
Louis van Gaal had thrown in the kitchen sink by utilizing all three of his substitutions by the middle of the second half. However, United's captain for the day Chris Smalling got injured during the latter half of the game, which might have needed the Red Devils to continue the rest of the game with ten men.
With the Reds needing to score in order to stay in the competition, van Gaal talked Smalling into staying on the pitch up front as an attacking target.
As dangerous as he is during set pieces, the limping tall defender proved more than handy during the time he played at the top for United. He got a couple of decent chances during a dramatic end, but could not manage to sneak the ball into the back of the net.
What this extended run on the pitch means for United's most influential defender this season remains to be seen. If fatal, questions marks might just be raised on van Gaal's decision to keep him on the pitch in spite of Uniteds long list of injuries.
#5 Silver linings in defeat
Even though Manchester United made an exit from the Champions League, there was plenty of promise shown by a young starting line-up, which had an average age of just 24 and a half years. Memphis, crucially, earned the confidence of his manager to get a chance in the playing eleven and the young Dutch international impressed.
His pace and trickery down the left-hand side proved menacing for United and he played in some terrific balls into the box as well as taking it upon himself of getting into the box on several occasions. He also put in a colossal defensive display as he popped up in the right space and made some vital tackles every time Wolfsburg threatened to go through on goal.
Jesse Lingard showed exactly why van Gaal has so much confidence in the English international after putting in another sterling performance. Along with Depay, Lingard formed a big threat as far as United's attack was concerned.
Anthony Martial, who was struggling off late to find the back of the net, showed great composure when he put one past the goalkeeper to open the scoring for United. He often went down the flanks to double up as a provider for his team-mates.
The young full-backs for United provided plenty of hope as far as the future is concerned for United. Guillermo Varela played particularly well at the right-back position making some vital tackles during the game. He also was not shy going forward linking up well with Jesse Lingard.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson never looked perplexed of the big stage when he was brought on in place of Matteo Darmian. The 18-year old made some fine overlapping runs going forward and seemed more than decent defensively as well.