The pre-match mood in the BT Sport studio was sombre, but that was largely because they had three Manchester United old-boys on duty, the only thing lifting the morale of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves the realisation that they would never again be asked by Jake Humphrey if Ole should go. Done and dusted, that one.
Rio paid tribute to his former comrade by suggesting that once he had been given the gaffer's gig he had "lightened the mood", Scholesie only just resisting the temptation to say, 'yeah, of Liverpool and City fans'.
Rio and Owen tried hard to be positive about the situation, new beginnings and all that, but Scholesie remained gloriously grumpy, wondering out loud why Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna and Mike Phelan hadn't resigned out of mortification due to their contribution to the recent apocalyptic run of results.
“I would be embarrassed to be on the staff now, they all should have gone, sacked or gone off their own back,” he said. “They have let the club down as much as Ole has.”
Rio thought this was harsh, reckoning this might be the only managerial job, however brief his reign will be, that Carrick will ever get in his life, which wasn’t the most resounding of endorsements. So who, he argued, could blame him for grabbing the opportunity with every hand he possesses?
Owen echoed that sentiment.
“We all love Cars, we want him to smash it out,” he said, opting not to address his contribution to the recent apocalyptic run of results. Scholesie rolled his eyeballs in the direction of the heavens.
And that’s kind of where they remained when the team news came in, the question mark he vocalised, followed by a strangled chuckle, after mentioning Martial’s name somewhat suggesting that he didn’t feel Anthony merited selection.
Bruno Fernandes dropped, Donny van de Beek starting, and with that Porky thundered past the window in a 747. To Villareal's relief, Maguire was in the XI too, his red card against Watford not, of course, ruling him out of the Champions League.
Carrick told BT's Des Kelly that he had so many options he was "spoilt for choice", Des not having the heart to ask, "but Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Telles, Fred and McTominay?"
“He could have left every single one of those players out tonight, not one of them deserves to be playing,” said an increasingly downcast Scholesie who further noted that the combined age of “our two best centre forwards”, Ronaldo and Cavani, was 70.
"How that's been allowed to happen I'll never know," he sighed, although to temper this frustration he could have added that four Mason Greenwoods are only marginally older than one Ronaldo and Cavani, or 'Cavan' as autocorrect has just insisted, like the county was only born in 1987.
What wasn’t commented upon was that United had two goalkeepers on the bench, not an entirely uncommon happening in the Champions League where you can name the world and its mother among your subs, but perhaps an indication of Carrick’s confidence in De Gea and his understudy Henderson. Heaton, then, would have fancied 10 minutes at least.
First half. BT's Darren Fletcher asked Robbie Savage what Carrick would have said to his players in the dressing room.
“Any chance of a bit of graft?”
Not much sign of it by half-time, though, “the first 20 minutes was a 0-0 battering, United were all over the place,” said Scholesie.
“But they’re still in the game,” said Rio, trying to comfort his mate, Scholesie struggling to come to terms with United being ‘still in the game’ against a team from a city whose population is smaller than the capacity of Old Trafford being a good thing.
“It’s been a bore draw,” Rio conceded, “but we’ll look to see some improvements after an arousing talk from Michael Carrick at half time.”
In fairness, United did indeed look aroused by the time Ronaldo scored in the 78th minute and Sancho made it 2-0 12-ish minutes later. Job done, in to the knock-out phase.
“It wasn’t pretty as you’d have wanted it to be,” said Owen, but he was well chuffed with what was, well, the terrible beauty of three points, a rare enough yield for the lads of late. He stopped just short, though, of howling, “give it to Cars!!!”
Scholesie wasn’t humming “Cars is at the wheeeeeeel” either, while maybe fretting about the club offering the lad a three-year contract there and then, but he came perilously close to raising a smile.
His relative positivity had Rio and Owen beaming.
And then he ruined it all.
"It's Chelsea away next."
Rio and Owen’s combined faces? “Oh ****.”