Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United squandered an opportunity to reach the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday after being held to a 0-0 draw at home to PSV Eindhoven.
On a night when Old Trafford marked 10 years since the death of United legend George Best, the hosts saw plenty of the ball but created few genuine chances, with Jesse Lingard hoisting their clearest opportunity over the bar mid-way through the second period.
Coupled with Wolfsburg’s 2-0 win at CSKA Moscow, the result — United’s first goalless home draw in the competition since September 2010 — left Van Gaal’s men needing to win their final Group B game at Wolfsburg on December 8 to be certain of a place in the knockout phase.
“The result is disappointing because I have still the feeling that we could have finished this game several times,” said United manager Van Gaal.
“That’s disappointing because we have to win in Wolfsburg and that’s also a difficult game. We have to do it in Wolfsburg.”
The stalemate curtailed a run of three straight wins for United, who will go into Saturday’s table-topping clash with surprise Premier League leaders Leicester City facing renewed questions about their attacking edge.
Phillip Cocu’s PSV have now taken four points from United, having beaten them 2-1 in September, and will approach their final assignment at home to CSKA two points behind group leaders Wolfsburg and one below United in third place.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Cocu, who played under Van Gaal with Barcelona and the Netherlands.
“I’m happy with the result. It was a great team performance, but we’re not there yet.”
The home fans marked the anniversary of Best’s death in the seventh minute — a nod to his favoured shirt number — by illuminating their smartphone screens and holding them aloft, creating an impromptu light show in the shadow of the floodlights.
Best-style swagger has been conspicuously absent from United’s football this season, but they were quick to assert their authority, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and PSV old boy Memphis Depay testing Jeroen Zoet.
– Zoet blunder -With Anthony Martial returning from injury to line up alongside Depay and Lingard, United had pace to burn in attack, while Wayne Rooney was also back after missing Saturday’s 2-1 win at Watford through illness.
Lingard was unable to gather a pass from Rooney that was dummied by Martial and Zoet had to field the ball from just in front of his goal-line when Morgan Schneiderlin stabbed Daley Blind’s corner towards goal.
Two good chances fell to Martial, but he saw a toed effort kicked away by Zoet after Lingard’s shot had been deflected into his path and was also thwarted by the visiting goalkeeper in first-half stoppage time.
Zoet almost met with calamity when he accidentally kicked the ground as he looked to send the ball downfield with Rooney lurking, but he recovered to put the ball out for a throw-in.
The visitors lost Luciano Narsingh to injury in the 18th minute, Gaston Pereiro coming on, but they probed where possible on the break, with David de Gea making routine saves from Jorrit Hendrix and Davy Propper.
Within four minutes of kick-off in the second half United had threatened three times — Schneiderlin and Lingard heading off-target, Depay shooting meekly at Zoet — but still a goal eluded them.
Shortly before the hour, Van Gaal turned to Plan B, introducing Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young in place of Schweinsteiger and Depay.
But sloppiness crept into United’s play and Propper twice tested De Gea’s handling from range before Lingard spurned the best chance of the night in the 73rd minute.
Young’s deflected cut-back from the byline on the right bounced invitingly into the youngster’s path, but from 12 yards and with the goal at his mercy he swept his shot over the bar.
“We are not ruthless enough,” admitted United skipper Rooney. “We have to change these games into victories.”