Gary Neville called Manchester United’s Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid “miserable” but said it was no surprise they were knocked out by the Spanish side and criticised the home team’s approach at Old Trafford.
Renan Lodi’s first-half header took Atletico to a 2-1 aggregate win over United in the last-16 tie and, with the Premier League out of reach and United already knocked out of the FA Cup, they are facing up to a trophy drought stretching to five seasons – their worst return in 40 years.
United’s chances of even qualifying for next season’s Champions League are also in doubt, with Arsenal above them in fourth place with games in hand.
Neville believes United’s exit from this season’s competition will at least allow them to focus all of their energies on a top-four finish in the Premier League but was unimpressed with the team’s plan of attack in the final stages on Tuesday, when they needed a goal to level the tie.
“The only benefit of Manchester United going out last night, if there is one at all, is that they are now 100 per cent focused on the league and getting into the Champions League is their priority,” Neville told Sky Sports News.
“Their best chance of getting into the Champions League and finishing in the top four is probably being out of the Champions League so they can focus everything on it.
“However, I’m not sure what that will have done for their confidence because it was a miserable night.
“I was in the stadium. I walked down to the pitch at the end of the game and I got a closer view of the disappointment and the dejection than I ordinarily would do up on the gantry. They were absolutely brassed off. They were disappointed, dejected, upset.
“They wilted in that second half. There was no plan. The game just fizzled out. There was no real big finish that you would expect when you’re 1-0 down.
“It was a real bad moment but not surprising.”
Former United captain and Sky Sports pundit Neville also believes the team’s poor display on Tuesday summed up the problems they are currently facing when they come up against disciplined opposition who have a threat in attack.
“I was negative after the game against Spurs on Saturday Night Football when they won 3-2 because I thought that performance against Spurs would get them beat against Atletico Madrid and it did,” he said.
“Atletico were organised, compact, they fought. They have got quality up front and in midfield and it didn’t surprise me one bit. It’s not difficult to see where this Manchester United team’s problem is.
“Any time they play against a half-decent team that are organised and compact, they look like they could get done over. They sometimes get through games, like against Tottenham, but quite often they get beat.”
De Gea: It’s not good enough
“There are too many years without any trophies, even without fighting for trophies,” United goalkeeper David de Gea said after United’s defeat.
“So I think we need to be clear we want to achieve good things, fight for trophies, we don’t just want to play for the top four and be there, get out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals. Something like this.
“We need much more from everyone because this club is too big for where we are now.
“So we need much more from everyone because this club is too big for where we are now. We are far from the fighting places for the Premier League, for the Champions League, so we need much more from everyone.”
United are suffering their worst trophy drought in 40 years after being knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico.
Defeat in Europe means the earliest United can achieve silverware is by winning next season’s League Cup final, which is due to take place on February 26, 2023.
With 2017 the last time United won a major trophy, they are now on their longest drought in four decades. After victory in the 1977 FA Cup, they had to wait until 1983 for their next triumph when they won the competition again.