UEFA Champions League Group B
VfL Wolfsburg vs. Manchester United
Venue: Volkswagen Arena
Date: Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Manchester United exited the Champions League with a 3-2 away defeat in Wolfsburg.
Despite Anthony Martial’s early strike, Naldo and Vieirinha saw the German side head into the break with the lead.
United questionably had a goal disallowed on the stroke of the interval, with Josuha Guilavogui own goal giving the away side false hope, as Naldo bagged his second moments late, to send Wolfsburg through as group winners, with PSV Eindhoven’s win securing second place for them, whilst sending Louis van Gaal’s out.
An entertaining game throughout began with Max Kruse’s flick allowing Andre Schurrle to bear down on goal, but he blazed over first time from close range with just David De Gea to beat.
The opening goal then came from Juan Mata’s threaded through ball, with Martial beating the offside trap, and calmly finishing into the bottom corner.
That lead lasted barely three minutes, as Daley Blind’s foul resulted in a Ricardo Rodriguez free-kick which was swept home by the right boot of Naldo.
United were getting in behind the Wolfsburg defence on numerous occasions, this time Memphis playing in Martial, but the Frenchman’s cross was cut out as Vieirinha saw a deflected shot held at the other end.
Wolfsburg captain and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio pulled off a remarkable save to deny Marouane Fellaini’s header from a Blind corner, with the home side then taking the lead just two minutes later.
Schurrle’s switch of play found Julian Draxler, who ghosted his way to the edge of the box, exchanged passes with Max Kruse, and unselfishly squared the ball to Vieirinha, who had the simple task of tapping the ball home.
Bastian Schweinsteiger on his return to Germany fired over with a first time effort after Jesse Lingard’s cross was cleared before De Gea denied Draxler with a smart low save.
Mata teed up Lingard whose shot was held before the moment of controversy arrived.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, on for Matteo Darmian (another injury to the mounting list), won the ball back which allowed Lingard’s cross to find its way through to the back of the net.
It looked like Mata may have flicked the ball in off his head whilst standing in an offside position, but this wasn’t the case, with the lineman’s belated flag coming after he looked utterly clueless in his decision, and so the goal was bizarrely chalked off, as half-time arrived at the Volkswagen Arena.
On the hour mark and Benaglio pulled off another brilliant save to deny an acrobatic effort from Memphis after Mata had seen a shot blocked in the same move.
Schurrle’s ambitious lob caught De Gea back-pedalling but the Spaniard did enough to turn the ball behind, as Dante headed over from the resulting corner.
De Gea again denied Schurrle, tipping the ball over the bar after Martial’s shot on the turn was held at the other end, as Marcel Schafer’s corner was volleyed wide by Kruse after Maximilian Arnold’s swerving effort forced De Gea to concede such kick.
Memphis’ close range free-kick fell just wide after Naldo was booked for bundling over Martial, as the former saw a near post shot turned behind.
It was from this corner, taken by Blind, that saw Fellaini’s header force Guilavogui to head the ball backwards and into his own net.
After throwing away the earlier lead so soon after scoring, United hadn’t learnt their lesson, as Naldo bagged his second, heading home from Schafer’s corner just over a minute after the visitors had equalised.
Memphis fired over as Chris Smalling and Lingard saw attempts blocked, but it was too little too late, with Van Gaal’s side crashing out of the Champions League.
PSV’s late turn around meant that United would have had to win this game, but destiny was in their own hands, knowing a win would not only send them through but also see them through as group winners.
This wasn’t to be, despite a more than navigable group, where the 0-0 at home to PSV two weeks ago will forever haunt United.
The two best performances of the group arguably game in the two defeats, this game and on the opening matchday, but on both occasions the lead was thrown away.
With an impressive defensive record this season, the hope was that the side could protect the lead should they obtain it, but this also wasn’t to be, however, there were plenty of positives in an attacking sense; something that hasn’t been said too often this campaign.
If United could combine their attacking prowess from tonight with their defensive record from every game bar tonight and the Arsenal defeat back in October, then this team could be on to something.
The fact remains though, that United will be playing Europa League football come February, with the draw of that taking place next Monday.
Up next is a trip to Bournemouth on Saturday teatime, where United will hope to quickly put to bed this early exit.
Manchester United: De Gea; Varela, Smalling, Blind, Darmian (Borthwick-Jackson 44); Fellaini, Schweinsteiger; Lingard, Mata, Memphis; Martial.
Subs: Romero, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Pereira, Young, Powell.
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Wolfsburg: Benaglio; Trasch, Naldo, Dante, Rodriguez (Schafer 16); Guilavogui, Arnold; Vieirinha, Draxler, Schurrle; Kruse.
Subs: Casteels, Bendtner, Schafer, Klose, Caliguiri, Dost, Jung.
Manager: Dieter Hecking