Manchester United’s flaws were exposed as Atletico Madrid performed a classic Champions League act on them, snuffing out their slim chances of triumph for another season.
Because of United’s limitations, a last-sixteen departure is about par for the course given their present diminished standing. And because of those constraints, their only chance of salvaging themselves from this disaster of a season is to finish in the top four in the Premier League.
It will also determine if the experiment of handing Ralf Rangnick control of the levers of power can be considered a success – albeit a very qualified one – because if United fails to overtake Arsenal or any other rivals, it must be considered a failure.
Manchester United is now a point behind Arsenal in fourth place, but they have played three games more and do not make a compelling case that they can climb that particular hill.
In an ironic twist, when United’s players limped off following a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Diego Simeone’s streetwise Atletico, television screens at Old Trafford displayed images of Ajax coach Erik ten Hag.