United had a really tough time at Old Trafford as they were largely outplayed for most of the time despite taking the lead through Wayne Rooney. He also got a late second which was not enough for the win but just to minimize the deficit. The visitors maintained their positive and attacking approach after going behind and were ruling side on the pitch and they eventually got the goals from Fernando Llorente, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain. Now United have it all to do at the Estadio San Mames next Thursday to proceed further into the Europa League, they atleast need a 2-0 win away from home.
Earlier than game it was all expected that a much stronger team will be landed as Sir Alex promised to field a strong team and he stuck to his word, although a handful of recent key performers, namely Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Nani and Danny Welbeck, were kept on the bench. In their place came Chris Smalling, wearing a protective hat after his head injury for England last week, Phil Jones, Ji-sung Park and Javier Hernandez.
The Spanish side were never going to come to Old Trafford just to make up the numbers – they had made that pretty clear in the build-up to the game – and they showed in the opening five minutes that, despite never having won on English soil, a visit to Old Trafford held no fears. Not only were the visitors extremely organised, they were highly motivated from the off and flooded forward at every opportunity.
Fernando Llorente was the Spaniard who had the visitors’ first sight of goal on four minutes when the skilful front man twisted and turned on the edge of the box to create space before curling an effort just wide of David De Gea’s left-hand post. In an another moment Iker Muniain found himself within a whisker of latching onto a lovely ball over the top from Javi Martinez soon after, but thankfully the pass ran through to De Gea.
United took time to get going on the attacking part – a tame low drive from Hernandez, straight at goalkeeper was all the Reds could get in the opening 20 minutes.
But after surviving a couple of scares – the referee waved away Llorente’s penalty appeals after tangling with Smalling and Markel Susaeta shot straight at De Gea, the outplayed home side took a somewhat surprise lead on 22 minutes. Hernandez played a neat one-two with Ryan Giggs before the Mexican fired low at Iraizoz who could only parry the ball into the path of the onrushing Rooney to blast home his 23rd goal of the campaign from six yards.
The goal did little to dent Athletic Club’s spirit and endeavour; in fact, the visitors appeared to grow in confidence as the openings in United’s half kept coming. Llorente headed over after a whipped cross from Oscar de Marcos down the right, before Susaeta was presented with a glorious chance just after the half-hour. Ander Herrera dinked a pass forward to Susaeta who burst clear of Jonny Evans but rather than take the ball on towards goal, he opted to lob De Gea and saw his effort drop wide. Soon after, right-back Andoni Iraola did manage to test the Spanish keeper after a burst forward, but De Gea was equal to it and turned it round the post.
After countless warnings the visitors gave it was no surprise to see Llorente get it finally just before going on the break on the 44th minute. He played his part in some neat build-up before ghosting in unmarked to powerfully head Susaeta’s right-wing cross past De Gea.
The Reds had De Gea to thank thereafter, not just for keeping them in this game, but arguably in the tie. First, the Spanish stopper, at full stretch, brilliantly tipped away Muniain’s 25-yard drive, before palming Llorente’s curling effort over the bar. Looking at the possession things were a little more even than the first period, and United had the fresh legs of Michael Carrick and Anderson who replaced Smalling and Park respectively, but it was visitors rather than hosts who still looked the most likely to score more. It did almost happen on 68 minutes when the impressive Muniain played a neat one-two with Herrera and found himself clean through - Thanks to De Gea who rescued The Reds with a smart save with his feet.
Unfortunately he again was powerless to stop de Marcos giving Athletic Club the lead on 72 minutes. After an exchange of passes on the edge of United’s box, the ball came to Herrera who scooped the ball up for de Marcos to volley home left-footed into the far corner, although replays showed the midfielder was in an offside position.
De Gea saved again from substitute Gaizka Toquero, but after parrying de Marcos’ speculative effort on 90 minutes, he was unable to prevent Muniain, who had run in unmarked, blasting the rebound into the roof of the net for Athletic's third.
The tie looked to be all over but Rooney gave United a lifeline deep into injury-time from the penalty spot after de Marcos had handled Hernandez’s shot in the box.
United still have it all to do, but there is at least some hope with just 1 goal less, they need to come up with atleast a 2-0 win to keep going on the Europa. Hope they land on much more better side with the likes of Cleverly, Valencia coming back after staying away from Injury.
Man Utd - De Gea, Evra, Rafael, Evans, Smalling, Jones, Giggs, Ji-Sung, Young, Rooney and Hernández
Subs - Amos, Ferdinand, Anderson, Carrick, Fabio Nani, Welbeck
Athletic Bilbao - Iraizoz, Iraola, San Jose, Aurtenetxe, Martínez, Susaeta, Iturraspe, Herrera, Llorente, Oscar and Muniaín.
Subs - Raul, Toquero, Lopez, Koikili, Perez, Ekiza, Gomes
Man Utd - Rooney (22', pen 90')
Athletic Bilbao - Llorente (44'), Oscar (72') and Muniaín (90').