MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Expensive mediocrity confirmed: Manchester United’s trophy drought completes a fifth season.
The last path to a title was ended at an Old Trafford now accustomed to letdowns as United was knocked out of the Champions League in a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
In a tight and tense game, it was United defender Diogo Dalot leaving Renan Lodi unmarked at the far post to head in Antoine Griezmann’s cross that made the difference in the 41st minute.
Rather than Cristiano Ronaldo dazzling as he did on Saturday — with a hat trick against Tottenham — it was defender Raphael Varane testing Jan Oblak with a header in the second half.
United could find no way past the Spanish champions’ goalkeeper three weeks after a 1-1 draw in Madrid that counted for nothing with away-goals no longer carrying an advantage.
It leaves United with only two appearances in the Champions League quarterfinals in a decade, in 2014 and 2019.
Not since the 1970s has United gone as long without a trophy with the second-tier Europa League in 2017 the last honor for, historically at least, English football’s most successful club.
There’s not much to show for more than $1 billion in transfer spending since two-time Champions League winner Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013.
Such is the instability at United that it’s an interim coach in Ralf Rangnick who has presided over United’s exits from the FA Cup and Champions League early in 2022.
Now the priority is just regaining the fourth spot in the Premier League to return to the Champions League next season for whoever is in charge of United.
Diego Simeone, a two-time Champions League runner-up, leads Atlético back into the quarterfinals like in 2020.