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Inert, fearful Manchester United miss chance to escape their suspended reality | Jonathan Liew

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side left their fate to spot-kicks and remain a big team who so often lose the big matches

In the end it all came down to this: goalkeeper against goalkeeper, winner takes all. For more than two hours Manchester United and Villarreal had circled each other like staggering boxers: tired limbs throwing tired punches and running through thick mud. The 61st game of Manchester United’s season and the 57th game of Villarreal’s unfolded in a manner we should probably have predicted. But as of 11.54pm in Gdansk, as David de Gea stood over his fateful kick, all possibilities remained ridiculously open.

It was a game in which United began as favourites, went into half-time as underdogs, looked to have it in the bag by the hour and ended up losing in flabbergasting circumstances. In many ways it was an evening that summed up their season: oscillating wildly between extreme competence and extreme lethargy, sometimes in the same game, occasionally even in the same attack. By the end, it felt as if United were grateful simply to still be there. For Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team, the means justified the soul-crushing end.

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