The strangest thing about Manchester United’s foray into Europe this season is that second place in Group H actually flatters them but they could and should have finished first.
Then again, their inability to take advantage of a completely unexpected victory for Young Boys over Juventus served only to underline the stark limitations of Jose Mourinho’s increasingly insufferable side.
“Maybe you did but not me. I didn’t learn anything from this game, nothing that happened surprised me at all. No, no, no,” the United manager said grimly afterwards, wearing the look of a man who has finally reached the end of his tether with so many of these players. In other words, Mourinho was fully prepared for his team to roll over against Valencia. Yes, it has got that bad.With Juventus losing against all odds in Bern, a win would have sent United through as group winners but that never looked even vaguely feasible on a night when they were outclassed by the team currently 15th in La Liga and the best they can hope for in Monday’s round of 16 draw is a pairing with Porto.
Otherwise, it will be one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and heaven knows what that lot might do to this rabble.
“Before the game I said to the players if we win tonight and Juve win we did our job, if we don’t win and Juve doesn’t win, we can blame ourselves,” Mourinho said.
This was supposed to be an opportunity for fringe players, and Paul Pogba, to press their case to Mourinho ahead of Sunday’s trip to Liverpool but the only thing the majority succeeded in doing was convincing their manager they are not good enough.
A moment of pure slapstick defending from Phil Jones early in the second half gifted Valencia a second goal after Carlos Soler put them in front after just 17 minutes and summed up a wretched night.
The only players who showed anything were the three Mourinho reluctantly summoned from the substitutes’ bench – Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young – and it was Young who crossed for Rashford to head home three minutes from time. That trio will start at Anfield. “It’s for you to work out who the other eight will be,” Mourinho said.