For two minutes after Patrice Evra’s spectacular goal at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, Manchester United fans were allowed to dream that their Champions League campaign would not end in a tame quarterfinal exit at the hands of holders Bayern Munich.
Bayern’s response, though, was typically ruthless, hitting back instantly and then delivering two more killer blows which had United out for the count – 3-1 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate – long before the final whistle.
While the German champions once again showed menacing consistency in grinding down their rivals even under the greatest pressure, United’s collapse after the Frenchman’s thunderbolt illustrated all their weaknesses in their first season under David Moyes.
The Scot’s gamble on Wayne Rooney and his injured toe backfired with the England striker a pale shadow of his usual self. Javier Hernandez, who had scored two goals in United’s last two games, was introduced only as a late substitute.
But any line-up or formation at the disposal of Moyes would probably have been insufficient to match Bayern’s tactical and technical prowess, which left United’s midfield chasing shadows and the back four defending with last-gasp tackles and blocks.
With next term’s Champions League football almost certainly out of United’s reach, the focus at Old Trafford in the last few weeks of the season will be on the big decisions set to be made when it finally comes to an end.
Under fire from some of the fans and looking largely uncomfortable, Moyes is still likely to be given more time to settle in the uncharted territory of steering a club with the highest ambitions.
Whether he will be given a massive war-chest to spend on whatever transfer targets he picks is another matter.
The club has already dished out a total of around 65 million pounds ($108.86 million) on misfit Marouane Fellaini and Chelsea reject Juan Mata, who was ineligible for United in the Champions league this season after his January move from Stamford Bridge.
Mata may yet turn out to be an asset but if the outgoing English champions are to avoid a long-term fall from grace, Moyes will quickly have to develop the instinct of getting the best value for money out of his purchases.
He will not need reminding of the kind of business his predecessor Alex Ferguson did down the years with the likes of Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.
United’s declining squad leaves very little room for error in the transfer market and, having endured a baptism of fire in his maiden season, Moyes knows a return to Champions League football for 2015 is likely to be the bare minimum goal.
Evra’s moment of magic at the Allianz Arena turned out to be just another false start under Moyes, producing only a brief moment of the gloss United enjoyed so consistently with Ferguson at the helm.
The 72-year-old Glaswegian for his part, can only hope that the man he hand-picked enjoys a rapid change of fortune at a level as unforgiving as it is still unfamiliar.