Manchester United and Manchester City crash out of the Europa League

Both Manchester clubs crashed out of the Europa League after being beaten by Sporting Lisbon and Athletic Bilbao.

Where to start? Manchester United were beaten both home and away by Bilbao and deservedly so, not at any point especially in the second leg did they look like they were going to go through. Bilbao, to put it simply were fantastic and didn’t give the United players a moments peace when they were in possession. Fernando Llorente looked like the best striker on the pitch over the two legs and scored some wonderful goals including a lovely first time volley in the second leg. He showed up the United front players even if Wayne Rooney did grab some goals himself, Llorente had the movement and the finishing ability which is attracting attention from bigger clubs and judging him on these two performances he can play well under pressure and in big games so I think a lot of clubs will be sniffing around him in the next transfer window.

So United failed and I believe that Alex Ferguson got it wrong in the second leg because he knew that his team needed to score twice to go through and this was if they kept a clean sheet which was never going to happen. He played a hardworking side and committed side but it did not seem likely that the team he selected would be good enough to win the game never mind qualify. He went with only one striker in Rooney and left Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck on the bench, while playing Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young in the wide positions. It seemed like Fergie was scared of this Bilbao side, why not go out and attack them, try and grab an early goal and see if they could deal with the pressure. But, no instead it seemed like he just wanted his side to stay in the game for as long as possible and then nick a couple of goals on the counter.

Maybe they will prefer being out so they can focus on the Premier League and Manchester City in the first half of their game seemed to take their eye off the ball because they were 2-0 down at halftime and losing 3-0 on aggregate. Losing the first leg was acceptable as it was away and Portugal can be difficult to go to but being 2-0 down at home is not something you see often from a team that wants to win trophies. In their defence they picked up in the second half and actually won the game on the night with goals from Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli which shows that Roberto Mancini did want to win the trophy and did not accept what he saw in the first half and let his players know what he thought of them at halftime. They were unfortunate to go out on away goals but they only have themselves to blame.

Both teams now only have the Premier League to focus on and that will be a fascinating race but it is a frustrating time for English teams in Europe with every team now out apart from Chelsea. This is a missed opportunity especially for Alex Ferguson as this is the only trophy he hasn’t won as manager of United so he probably wanted to see his team perform better. It is now up to Chelsea to win a European trophy this season.

The worst way to win… Penalties

Penalties is the most heartbreaking way to lose a game of football especially if you went down to ten men during the game like Crystal Palace did away to Cardiff. After Patrick McCarthy got sent off for two bookings, the Palace team defended brilliantly and did everything they could to keep Cardiff from scoring.

Cardiff missed opportunities and over the two legs they probably deserved to win the tie but Crystal Palace must feel hard done as they put in a very committed display and a draw would have been fair but the rules state that the tie had to be decided that night and when it came to it their players failed to keep their cool missing three of their penalties. With Jonathan Parr missing the target completely and both Jermaine Easter and Sean Scannell seeing their spot kicks saved by Tom Heaton they must be travelling back to London deflated and absolutely devastated to have missed their best opportunity of getting to a cup final in a long time.

Tom Heaton will be seen as the hero and will grab all the headlines in the morning papers whereas Kenny Miller who actually missed for Cardiff will hardly be mentioned unlike the Palace players that missed will be portrayed as villains.

Although this isn’t directly the same it is yet another time when England have failed to win a game because of penalties. England have been knocked out by Portugal and Germany which was heartbraking both in 1990 and 1996.

So what goes into taking a penalty? The most important thing a player needs is confidence and players that put their names forward deserve great credit as they are basically putting themselves forward to be shot down as they have put all the pressure on themselves to succeed as their opposite number, the goalkeeper, can only be a hero because nobody expects him to save the penalty.

The longest walk a player must take in his career is when he knows it is his turn next and has to walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot and look at the fans behind the girl which will either be his own who will be trying to encourage him or towards the opposition fans who will be doing all they can to put off the player. That walk must be so nervous and basically takes away the majority of a players footballing ability because it is one kick and one opportunity and although people say practice makes perfect, it doesn’t matter how often you practice taking penalties, you may choke on the big stage or the keeper could pull off a great save.

Another thing that would make anyone feel nervous is when a player places the ball and is all set to take it and then the referee tells them to replace the ball, it must ruin all momentum and cause panic as the player will be focused then all of a sudden they are taken out of the zone because the referee has spoke to them as the best penalty takers block out all the noise around them and just hit the ball.

Another thing that is important to remember though and the best advice to give to someone taking a penalty is that the goalposts do not move, they are in the same place every time and you are only 12 yards away. If you are a striker and you have a chance from 12 yards unmarked you are expected to score and most good strikers do put them away and therefore every penalty should go in.

However as I have said pressure can get to everyone and if a chance falls to you in a game it is a split second moment whereas you have so much time to think about it when taking a penalty especially in a shootout.

So is a penalty shootout the best way to end a game? In my opinion, yes because games have to come to a conclusion in some way and even though it is slightly unfair, every single player is under the same pressure and therefore it just comes down to whoever can hold their nerve the most.