by Kevin Henning

Watching Athletic Bilbao’s undoing of Manchester United last night gave me pleasure and satisfaction but most of all hope. Let’s put the Europa League to one side for a moment and think about the Premier League title race. What the Basque outfit showed  was that fear is the only thing that holds back any team going to the home of the current champions of England. Athletic Bilbao turned up with a huge following that demanded that their team rewarded them for travelling. Time and time again, United were kept in the tie by the much maligned David de Gea.
As a City fan, I can only hope and pray that Roy Hodgson and the rest of the Premier League managers were watching. Too often, sides turn up at Old Trafford beaten before they step off their coach and have only damage limitation in mind. Bilbao played United at their own game. Every loose pass was pounced upon, every time they had the ball Bilbao looked to attack. United were simply not allowed to strut their stuff by the Spaniards who were unlucky to leave with only three away goals.
This was not the first time United have been blown away on their own patch this season. Obviously the demolition derby was the greatest example of a side going to Old Trafford and playing without the nagging doubt that should they lose the ball, they’d lose the game. However, Manchester City should be expected to take on any team home or away. I’m thinking of the staggering Blackburn Rovers victory when United could have been fancied to hit double figures. Previous to this, Arsenal had plenty of goalscoring chances despite leaking eight, Chelsea should have scored at least 2 or 3 than they did when losing there, hell even Norwich City had a go and were unlucky to lose.
The fact of the matter is that United can be got at. No longer can they rely on the same back four week-in, week-out. Vidic has missed most of the season, Ferdinand’s appearances can’t be taken for granted, Evans looks like he needs experience or pace at the side of him and Jones and Smalling are not the Moore and Beckenbauers we were led to believe they were. Once the defence is breached, strikers are faced with a keeper that doesn’t intimidate in the way Schmeichel or van der Sar have done in previous years.
After a run of games where United were almost expected to drop points, they now face a period of games they should be able to cruise through. My hope for this period is that teams such as West Brom can take encouragement from Bilbao’s bravery and go for the throat of United. We have all witnessed the results when sides have the guts and gusto to have a go at Old Trafford.

Come on Woy, if you send your boys out to try not to lose, they probably will.