Manchester United slumped to a limp defeat in Valencia as Phil Jones’ own goal ensured they passed up the chance to win Champions League Group H.
United were already assured of qualification for the knockout stages, and a win would have taken them above Juventus, who were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by Young Boys of Switzerland.
But Jose Mourinho’s side put in a poor performance and were well beaten by a team, 15th in the Spanish top flight, who named an experimental line-up as they were already certain of finishing third.
Carlos Soler pounced on Jones’ headed clearance to strike home a fizzing low finish amid slack marking for Valencia’s opener.
And Jones was badly at fault for the second after the break as he diverted a through ball past Sergio Romero from outside his own box, when the United keeper had left his line to claim the ball.
Three bright second-half substitutes combined to earn a late consolation, as Marcus Rashford headed home Ashley Young’s cross after Jesse Lingard kept the ball in play.
Juan Mata then almost grabbed an equaliser as he fired a volley wide from inside the box after Paul Pogba’s smart chip over the defence.
But defeat means United will play a group winner in the knockout stage, one of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St-Germain, Porto, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Had United finished top, they would have faced one of Atletico Madrid, Roma, Schalke, Ajax and Lyon.
They next play Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield in a 16:00 GMT kick-off on Sunday.
- Football Daily podcast: Man Utd back to square one but Man City win
- Relive Wednesday’s Champions League action
Pogba and Jones not only culprits
Before the game. United boss Mourinho singled out Pogba, urging him to make “a good impact” after being left out of Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League home win over Fulham.
The Frenchman’s most notable contribution was somehow shooting wide from four yards from a Marouane Fellaini knock-down, although the assistant referee wrongly adjudged him to be offside.
In truth it would be hard to argue that any of United’s players enjoyed a successful evening.
Striker Romelu Lukaku endured an error-strewn night with several poor, heavy touches, while Fred, starting for just the seventh time since his £47m summer arrival, also looked off the pace in midfield.
Mourinho’s side did rally slightly in the closing stages, but for the vast majority of the game only threatened in isolated chances they threw away, while their defending was at times calamitous. Valencia might have scored four or five.
Michy Batshuayi missed a golden chance to double the lead in the first half when he headed over from close range, Dani Parejo was only denied by a last-ditch block and Romero was forced off his line to stop Santi Mina after a Jones slip that followed his own goal.
United may not have been expecting Juve to slip up too, but were aiming to win all three of their away group matches in the Champions League for the first time since 2010-11.
They made the final that year, losing to Barcelona at Wembley. There looks to be very little hope of repeating such a run this term.
Job done, Mourinho says
How important does United’s unlikely and slightly fortunate 2-1 victory away to Juventus look now? How about the last-gasp winner at home to Young Boys, when Mourinho celebrated by throwing a drinks bottle carrier cage to the ground?
Ultimately, those points – perhaps not won convincingly – are the difference between playing in the Europa League’s last 32 and the Champions League last 16.
Mourinho said, regardless of Wednesday’s outcome, it was “job done in a difficult group”.
He added: “I don’t think we were brilliant in this group phase, but with the problems we had and the injuries we had we managed to come here already qualified.”
United’s Champions League results this season:
- W v Young Boys (a) 0-3
- D v Valencia (h) 0-0
- L v Juventus (h) 0-1
- W v Juventus (a) 2-1
- W v Young Boys (h) 1-0
- L v Valencia (a) 2-1
More from Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, speaking to BT Sport:
“We were too passive in the first half. We were quite comfortable with the ball but not in intensity and ambition. In the second half, I was pretty sure that after speaking at half-time things could be different but we started with an own goal that gave Valencia a better position to control the game.
“I made the two changes later and the team improved immediately, we started playing faster, arriving with link play in more dangerous positions, and we probably should get to 2-2 because we had a couple of good chances to equalise.
“But we started the first half playing too comfortable and not with enough intensity.”
‘Back to square one’ – analysis
Former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher on BBC Radio 5 live
It wasn’t a dead rubber for Manchester United because they have Liverpool on Sunday and some of the players that played tonight aren’t in the team regularly. There were questions over them.
Now it feels like players who should have a point to prove have come back in [and haven’t proved themselves] and it’s kind of back to square one. It was slow, lethargic, disjointed.
Defenders were sitting back and it doesn’t work like that – it’s a hindrance on the team because they are not up the pitch far enough to support the play. They then end up so deep it invites pressure and they concede goals.
It took Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard to show some endeavour to go and press and lift the team.
If they had played like that from the first minute they would have won the game for me and topped the group. It was too little too late.