Ian Herbert: The one that got away returns to haunt United

The truth that United cannot defend capably against good sides revisited Old Trafford

Arjen Robben – another of the ones that got away. Sir Alex Ferguson tried to buy him in January 2004, but the Dutchman announced he would be joining Chelsea that summer, having helped Netherlands to the semi-finals of the European Championships. He succumbed to the blandishments of Claudio Ranieri and Peter Kenyon, he said a few years later, because United had reneged on an original deal and because the Chelsea men travelled to Eindhoven to meet him. "It was a nice, personal touch," he once said. A fateful turn of history, on hindsight.

Ferguson stared ahead impassively late last night, when asked had he considered chancing his arm again this summer when Robben wanted out of the Bernabeu. "No, not at all. Just not interested," he said. But this was an occasion for him to reflect on missing links at his club. He has declared in the latest issue of his club's in-house magazine that only minor tweaking will be needed this summer, but there has been abundant evidence to the contrary in the club's wretched past nine days. The suspicion has been there in domestic football all season that United, who will have lost more games than any other Premier League champions since Blackburn 15 years ago if they do pip Chelsea to the title, are not the force they were. The Champions League has only confirmed the fact.

Ferguson was more desperate than anyone knew to take a step beyond last night's encounter. Yes, the use of Wayne Rooney really was the act of a desperate man who had seen with his own eyes against Chelsea four days ago how the force of his side is distilled into one individual now. A statistic can tell many a story but this was the only game United have won this calendar year in which Rooney has failed to score. One extraordinary moment roughly 10 minutes into the match, provided a glimpse of why. Felled by a tackle, Rooney had not clambered to his feet when the ball rebounded in front of him so he tried to plant a head on the ball anyway, virtually from the seat of his pants. The sort of moment which explains the tense chants of "Rooney" which went up as he started hobbling around Old Trafford. The 24-year-old's evening was effectively over by then, another twisted ankle of no use to him, no matter how assiduously he avoided looking back to the United dug-out. His club maintained last night it was coincidence that the right ankle went again. Fabio Capello may view that statement with a little suspicion.

It seemed that the gamble had paid a princely reward when Luis Nani stepped up smartly to crash home the low Antonio Valencia cross which Rooney – at the hub of things even when he is dragging his right leg behind – had dummied, to let it run past him across the box. In just 41 minutes, United had put three goals past Bayern, whose defence is so fragile that Lionel Messi has grounds for believing that his most profitable European night of the season may yet lie ahead of him.

And then, the unvarnished truth that Manchester United cannot defend capably against good sides revisited Old Trafford. United have failed to keep a clean sheet against any of the current top seven teams in the Premier League this season and the manager's most problematic decision revolved around which was the lesser of two evils at right back. Gary Neville, after seven successive games, had looked no match for Franck Ribery in Munich. Rafael da Silva against Ronaldinho in the previous round had looked an even less equitable contest and he had not started a game since lasting only a little more than an hour in a difficult Carling Cup final against Aston Villa.

The 19-year-old's long, disconsolate trudge directly to the tunnel after his dismissal disguised the story of his match: a dangerous lunging tackle in the game's opening seconds; a vanishing act when Thomas Muller's header reached Ivica Olic to slot in Bayern's decisive first goal; two acts of petulance which saw him dismissed. "He's inexperienced, the boy and when you're inexperienced it can show," Ferguson said. Acceptable for a middle ranking Premier League game, maybe, but is a Champions League quarter-final the place to have someone short of know-how?

It is not, and that is a fact Ferguson will surely consider today, along with the thought of what tortures might actually have lain ahead had United limped through the semi-final and on to face Messi and Co in Madrid next month. Ferguson will surely also reflect again on the claim that he does not need to invest – though Robben is not interested if he comes calling. "I'm happy with my career. I don't think I left England too early," he said on the eve of last night's glittering return.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried