Europa League 'a true reflection' of struggling Manchester United's level

Scott McTominay goal not enough for United in 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town to guarantee they will not be in Uefa Champions League next season

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND - MAY 05:  Juan Mata and Scott McTominay of Manchester United react after the Premier League match between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United at John Smith's Stadium on May 05, 2019 in Huddersfield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The most damning element came after the final whistle.

“It is probably the right place for us to be next year, the Europa League,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Confirmation came that the man who won Manchester United the Champions League in 1999 will lead them into the continent’s secondary competition after they floundered against a side bound for the Championship.

“We weren’t good enough,” said Solskjaer, a comment that is equally applicable on the day and over the season.

“We are all disappointed we aren’t in the Champions League but I think that is a true reflection. The table seldom lies in the end.” So United’s 2019-20 campaign may yet begin in Europa League qualifying in July, should they finish sixth and Watford win the FA Cup. Incorrigible optimist that he is, Solskjaer talked about it offering opportunities to United’s youngsters, but it would represent another indignity.

Even a draw, ending a run of five straight away defeats, was bad enough. United  had lost seven of their previous 10 games but, given Huddersfield Town’s travails, there was a case for arguing this was worse than any of those losses.

“Sometimes it happens: concentration, application, confidence drops,” said Solskjaer.

Lacking ideas and urgency. United made elementary errors and resembled a rabble. They endured the humiliation of the Huddersfield fans taunting them about how bad they were.

“Effort and attitude was not the problem,” said Solskjaer. “The players were running and trying.”

They certainly try the patience. Huddersfield, who had lost 22 of their previous 24 games and only taken four points since November, gifted United a goal. They still held them.

If nothing else, they ensured a dreadful season had a comparatively happy ending. Their long-suffering supporters deserved it; so, too, Dean Hoyle, who is standing down after a decade as a popular owner.

“We wanted to give something back to the chairman and the fans,” said manager Jan Siewert.

It felt unlikely when Huddersfield, behind after 15 seconds against Liverpool last week, contrived to concede in comical fashion after just seven minutes.

Just the second goal of Scott McTominay’s United career came courtesy of Jonas Lossl, who neglected to try and use his hands to stop a tame shot and failed to block it with his knees.

Thereafter Paul Pogba hit the bar with a header but has still not scored in open play since February. Marcus Rashford shot wide but none of United’s forwards have struck since March.

Only Juan Mata, who curled a shot narrowly past the post, at least showed glimpses of class, and the enterprising substitute Tahith Chong played remotely well. The teenager almost delivered a winner. United did not merit one.

Alexis Sanchez was utterly ineffectual on his first start for two months. He hobbled off after 53 minutes, an ankle problem ending his afternoon, and perhaps his season, in suitably anti-climactic fashion.

“There is the chance you have seen the last of [some] players,” added Solskjaer, though Sanchez’s wages may mean United are lumbered with him.

Phil Jones and Luke Shaw, who have signed new contracts, should stay but traded blunders, the left-back’s mistake costing them as United conceded in lamentable fashion, 13 seconds after they took a corner.

“We have conceded too many times when we have had a corner kick,” noted Solskjaer. “We became sloppy.”

Lossl contrived get an assist against United for the second successive season as Shaw missed his punt forward. Isaac Mbenza raced on to score belatedly open his Huddersfield account.

The Town fans greeted it with a chant of “we’ve scored a goal.” They have only seen 10 on home turf this season.

It meant United’s wait for a clean sheet extended to a 14th game, their worst run since 1970.

David de Gea, culpable for a rash of goals recently, twice saved well from Karlan Grant, sparing United the most embarrassing of defeats.

Even a draw felt bad enough but Solskjaer accepted: “It's not come as a surprise.”