Manchester United missed a golden chance to top their Champions League group after an abject performance saw them lose 2-1 to Valencia at Mestalla Stadium.
Controversy struck just ten minutes into the clash, as United right back Antonio Valencia's mistimed sliding tackle on Toni Lato left the youngster writhing on the ground. Replays showed that the Ecuadorian had been very late but the lack of studs may have saved him, either way Valencia was lucky to escape with just a yellow.
The home side took the lead after just 16 minutes through Carlos Soler. Smart work down the right flank saw a Valencia cross only half cleared by Phil Jones, the ball fell to Soler who made no mistake with a low drive that zipped into the bottom corner from just inside the area.
Michy Batshuayi missed a golden opportunity after the half hour, and it came down the right flank once again. A cross into the box found the Belgian completely unmarked but he somehow conspired to shoulder the ball over instead of heading home.
Just one minute into the second half disaster struck for the away side. A good Valencia move set Batshuayi through the middle of a United defence that parted right down the middle, and Jones - who was chasing the Belgian down - could only stab beyond his own goalkeeper and make it 2-0 to Valencia.
The away side gave themselves some hope with four minutes to go, as some smart movement inside the penalty area saw an Ashley Young cross nodded in by Marcus Rashford. Ultimately it would be in vain though, and United's performance didn't deserve anything other than a loss. 2-1 was a kind result to them.
Key Talking Point
This Valencia side had nothing to play for other than Europa League seeding, yet they came out all guns blazing, looking like they were the team looking to take top spot in the group.
This side could make significant progress in the Europa League if they can replicate this kind of performance.
Starting XI: Jaume (6); Piccini (7), Vezo (6), Diakhaby (6), Lato (5); Soler (8*), Parejo (7), Kondogbia (6), Cheryshev (6); Batshuayi (7), Mina (6).
Substitutes: Garay (6), Torres (N/A), Rodrigo (N/A).
STAR MAN - Carlos Soler
The winger scored a superb goal to give his side the lead and was dangerous all evening.
GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!!!! What a finish from Carlos Soler, bending it into the far bottom corner to put Valencia 1-0 up over United!#VALMUN— 90min (@90min_Football) December 12, 2018
He torched Marcos Rojo throughout the first half until the defender was substituted at half time, and although he wasn't as involved in the second half he remained a threat.
WORST PLAYER - Toni Lato
Through no fault of his own, Lato looked off the pace until he was substituted.
Horrifying tackle from Antonio Valencia on Toni Lato, but I have one question: Do shinguards no longer exist in the world of football? 樂 #VALMUN #Valencia #ManchesterUnited #ChampionsLeague #UCL #Lato— Football Addict (@Footba77Addict) December 12, 2018
The youngster was the victim of a poor Antonio Valencia tackle and he never looked the same afterwards.
Key Talking Point
There's not a lot to say about this United side that hasn't already been said. This group of players simply isn't playing for the manager.
Jose Mourinho deserves blame for season-long stale tactics, but even he cannot legislate for the performances of Rojo, Jones, Romelu Lukaku or Valencia. The entire squad needs to be reinvented, possibly by a new manager.
Starting XI: Romero (5); Valencia (5), Bailly (5), Jones (4), Rojo (4); Fellaini (5), Pogba (6*); Pereira (5), Mata (6), Fred (5); Lukaku (5).
Substitutes: Young (6), Rashford (6), Lingard (N/A).
STAR MAN - Paul Pogba
This is reluctantly awarded. The Frenchman was hardly a stand-out performer, but if anyone was going to turn the game for United it would've been Pogba.
His runs from midfield are still threatening to the opposition, but with such little help around him there was only so much he could do.
WORST PLAYER - Marcos Rojo
The man was an absolute calamity. Everything Valencia did in the first half came down his flank and he was found out time and time again.
He was correctly replaced at half time after a horrid performance. Phil Jones can also consider himself lucky that Rojo was this bad, as the Englishman wasn't much better.