United face a real fight to stay in the Europa League after Athletic Club left Old Trafford more than a little shell-shocked by coming away with a 3-2 victory.
The Reds were largely outplayed for much of the 90 minutes despite taking the lead through Wayne Rooney, who also grabbed a late second which could turn out to be crucial. The visitors maintained their positive and attacking approach after going behind and duly got their rewards through goals from Fernando Llorente, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain. It now means United have it all to do at the Estadio San Mames next Thursday.
Before the game, Sir Alex promised to field a strong team and he stuck to his word, although a handful of recent key performers, namely Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Nani and Danny Welbeck, were given an initial watching brief from the bench. In their place came Chris Smalling, wearing a protective hat after his head injury for England last week, Phil Jones, Ji-sung Park and Javier Hernandez.
Marcelo Bielsa and his Athletic Club players were never going to come to Old Trafford just to make up the numbers – they had made that pretty clear in the build-up to the game – and they showed in the opening five minutes that, despite never having won on English soil, a visit to Old Trafford held no fears. Not only were the visitors extremely organised, just as you’d expect for a team managed by the meticulous, almost obsessive, Bielsa, they were highly motivated from the off and flooded forward at every opportunity.
The focal point for most attacks was giant striker Fernando Llorente, he of 21 goals before kick-off, and it was the Spaniard who had the visitors’ first sight of goal on four minutes. The skilful front man twisted and turned on the edge of the box to create space before curling an effort just wide