Athletic Bilbao Vs. Manchester United, 2012 Europa League: Athletic Cruise Past United To Advance

After Manchester United's poor performance against Athletic Bilbao at Old Trafford last week, you'd have expected there to be some kind of response from Sir Alex Ferguson's side. After all, this is a team that made the Champions League final last season, a team that's just gone back to the top of the Premier League. They should have at least been good enough to give Athletic Club an actual game.

They weren't. The hosts were comfortably the better side throughout, and eventually ran out deserved 2-1 victors on the night and 5-3 on aggregate. The San Mames has witnessed some excellent football this season, and Athletic didn't disappoint the fans, hurling themselves at United from the opening whistle and forcing their guests into several mistakes. With a 3-2 lead from the first leg, the hosts didn't have to attack, but they almost couldn't help themselves. Iker Muniain set the tone after dancing into the box and slapping a shot against David de Gea's right-hand post, with Oscar de Marcos blazing the rebound well over from close range.

It was a disappointing miss, and it was easy to imagine it giving United some momentum, but Fernando Llorente, Athletic Club's talismanic striker, soon righted the ship, sending a fizzing first-time volley past de Gea following a brilliant 60-yard raking pass from Jon Aurtenetxe. Llorente, who had been a major fitness concern before the match, was replaced by Gaizka Torquero before halftime, but that didn't stop the hosts from pressing the attack.

Athletic had several more chances to double their lead, the best of which was probably a mazy run by Andoni Iraola that ripped open the United defence only for the 29-year-old to shoot wide at the vital moment. By this point, however, another goal looked like a simple matter of time - and it wasn't going to be United scoring it. Athletic were dominant, and with a two-goal aggregate lead the tie was virtually wrapped up.

De Marcos made sure of it in the 65th minute, sending a deflected effort past a scrambling de Gea after United failed to clear a simple cross from the right. Wayne Rooney did manage to pull one back with ten minutes to go, the England striker sending a fizzed drive into the top corner from 25 yards - a goal that sent the home fans into a standing ovation - but there was never any chance of a United comeback. After two minutes of stoppage time, the champions of England crash out of the Europa League, and Athletic march on.

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