Athletic Bilbao produced a dominating display to dismantle Manchester United’s Europa League hopes in the first leg of the last 16 at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney gave United an early lead against the run of play, tapping in after Javier Hernandez’s effort was initially saved by Gorka Iraizoz, but from then on the Basque side dominated, and deservedly leveled before the break.
Markel Susaeta’s deft cross-found Fernando Llorente unmarked, and his clinical header evaded the otherwise unflappable David De Gea.
Bilbao went ahead as Oscar de Marcos volleyed into the corner after a delicious pass from Ander Herrera, with Iker Muniain crashing home a late third following more complacent United defending.
Rooney’s stoppage time penalty gives United a slice of hope heading into the second leg at the intimidating San Mames where Bilbao have lost just twice domestically all season.
After scrapping through against Ajax in the previous round, United were looking to put a performance in worthy of their illustrious European history, while Copa del Rey finalists Bilbao were aiming to add to the Premier League champions’ misery and with four members of Spain’s Under-21 European Championship winning squad in their ranks, were not to be underestimated.
And the visitors began in the fashion that had become synonymous with Spanish teams in the modern day, possessing a mastered passing game and an unerring potency in the final third.
Llorente created the first opening of the tie, weaving through United’s defence before striking wide of De Gea’s goal.
De Gea, himself a member of that victorious Spain squad from last summer, had to be alert to deny Markel Susaeta’s, a stop that finally sparked Sir Alex Ferguson’s side into action.
After Ryan Giggs fed Javier Hernandez, the Mexican’s shot brought the best out of Iraizoz, only for Rooney to turn in the rebound from seven yards.
Bilbao didn’t allow themselves to be overawed and Andoni Irola could have hit back immediately, but Jonny Evans’ block came to United’s rescue.
The goal had done little to stem the flow, and Markel Susaeta should have grabbed a crucial away goal after being put clean through, but chipped wide, before De Gea was forced into a smart save following Irola’s strike.
The prssure finally told in the twilight of the first half as Susaeata crossed for Llorente to thunder a header low into the net.
The interval did little to disrupt the away side’s rhythm, as United gave Iker Muniain the freedom of the edge of the penalty area to unleash a shot which De Gea brilliantly turned behind.
Llorente then looked to add to his earlier header, but first hit the side netting before forcing his international counterpart De Gea into another sprawling save, as the pressure continue to swell.
Even the introduction of Michael Carrick couldn’t assist United from wrestling control away from Bilbao, as Muniain spurned the opportunity to grab a second, as De Gea smothered his shot.
However, he could do nothing about the goal that gave Bilbao the lead on the night as De Marcos volley home after Herrera’s delightful chipped pass.
Bilbao all but sealed their passage into the last eight as Rafael inexplicable allowed Muniain to steal in to thump in a third following De Gea’s stop from De Marcos’ shot.
Rooney cut the defect in stoppage time from the penalty spot after De Marcos’ handball, but the United have it all to do going into the second leg in a week’s time.
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