Manchester United’s season suffered a huge blow as a defeat at German side RB Leipzig knocked them out of the Champions League.
Needing just a draw to progress to the last 16, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side conceded twice inside 13 minutes to leave their hopes in tatters before RB Leipzig added what ultimately turned out to be the killer third with 20 minutes left.
United staged their now customary second-half fightback thanks to a Bruno Fernandes penalty and Harry Maguire header, but ultimately fell short.
To rub salt in the wound, the goalscorer of the first and supplier of the second, Angelino, is currently on loan in Germany from Manchester City.
His superb low shot into the far corner after just two minutes was followed soon after by a chipped cross to the back post, where Amadou Haidara ghosted in to volley past David de Gea.
It could have been even worse, with the home side seeing a third goal ruled out for offside against Willi Orban on the half-hour.
United were better in the second half and struck the crossbar through a Fernandes free-kick but shortly after substitute Justin Kluivert chipped in following some shoddy defensive play from Maguire and De Gea.
Fernandes’ penalty – awarded for a foul on Mason Greenwood by Ibrahima Konate – gave them a slim chance, which Maguire made real by diverting Paul Pogba’s back-post header into the net, but the Germans held on.
Pogba had started on the bench and came on with 30 minutes to go, a day after his agent Mino Raiola declared that the midfielder was “unhappy” at the club and “has to leave” in the next transfer window.
It is small solace for United that they now drop into the Europa League – a competition they won in 2017.
RB Leipzig advance to the Champions League last 16 having reached the last four in 2019-20.
Whether they do so as group winners or runners-up depends on the result between Paris St-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir in a game that was suspended on Tuesday after a match official was accused of using a racist term towards one of the Turkish side’s backroom staff.
No comeback this time as United head for Europa League
Tuesday’s defeat is the latest and lowest dip of what has already been a rollercoaster season for Solskjaer’s side, both domestically and in Europe.
They were firm favourites to progress from Group H after beating PSG and Leipzig in their first two games of the campaign, but last week’s home loss to the French side left them vulnerable and the German side completed the job.
In truth, though, much of the blame for their failure to progress is their defeat at Istanbul Basaksehir, who finished bottom of the group.
Critics were quick to pounce on Solskjaer’s side after that defeat, particularly in light of the negligent way their defence allowed Demba Ba to run unchallenged from inside his own half to score the opening goal of the Turkish side’s 2-1 win.
Such defensive frailties have also been evident throughout their league season, including in wins at Everton, Southampton and West Ham, in which they fell behind but rallied to take the points.
Again in Germany they were unpicked with ease as Angelino surged into space on the left to fire in Leipzig’s first and was then afforded too much room to pick out Haidara for the second.
It could have been different had Greenwood taken advantage of time and space on the counter-attack, but he placed his low shot too close to Peter Gulacsi, who saved to preserve the score at 1-0.
It was perhaps telling that not only did Pogba not start the game but that he was not Solskjaer’s first port of call in his bid to alter the game, with Donny van de Beek his first substitution.
When Pogba did arrive, he made a difference, playing a crucial role in the second goal that gave them hope of yet another late recovery and almost an even bigger one with a cross that Nordi Mukiele would have poked into his own net but for the boot of Gulacsi.
The final whistle followed soon after to give Leipzig their revenge for the 5-0 loss they suffered at Old Trafford on matchday two.