Having already been eliminated from the Carabao Cup and FA Cup in the third and fourth rounds respectively, United needed to outscore Atleti at Old Trafford to keep their vague hope of silverware alive. The home side were unable to punch through the Rojiblancos barricade as a single headed goal from Renan Lodi was enough to send the reigning LaLiga champions through to the quarterfinals.
While it is still mathematically possible for United to win the Premier League title this season, with just nine games left to play the probability of them overturning the 20-point gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City is rather unlikely.
With Ralf Rangnick's side now eliminated from all European and domestic cups, their only remaining focus is a top-four league finish. Even that is far from guaranteed, given that Arsenal are occupying the final Champions League qualification spot, sitting a point above United and playing the first of their three games in hand on them against Liverpool on Wednesday.
Ronaldo's run comes to an end
As well as all-but ensuring that United's underwhelming 2021-22 campaign will end without any new silverware, the galling defeat against Atleti means that serial champion Cristiano Ronaldo is also set to finish a season trophyless for the first time in over a decade.
Ronaldo may have scored his 807th goal in professional football at the weekend, but against Atletico he did not register a single shot on target -- which hadn't happened when he had played the whole of a Champions League match since Real Madrid's 2010-11 semifinal loss to Barcelona -- and only had seven touches of the ball in the final half-hour of play.
It was sweet revenge for Atletico, who had suffered elimination at the hands of a team featuring Ronaldo in the 2013-14 final, 2014-15 quarterfinals, 2015-16 final, 2016-17 semifinals and 2018-19 round of 16.
With the chance of a sixth taste of Champions League glory slipping away, it is now just a matter of time before Ronaldo ends a season empty-handed for the first time since 2009-10, his first year at Real Madrid.
While his maiden campaign following his then world-record £80 million transfer to the Bernabeu failed to bear fruit, the Portugal captain then won at least one trophy per season for the next 12 years, amassing a total of 20 honours in all. That haul included four Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, three FIFA Club World Cups and five league titles split between Real and Juventus, who he joined in 2018.
In fact, two of those Champions Leagues (with Real Madrid) and both of his Serie A titles (Juventus) have come since United last won anything of note, namely the 2016-17 Europa League under Jose Mourinho.
Unfortunately it would appear that Ronaldo's return to Manchester United has brought that unbroken, silver-laden run of success to an end in the space of just one season. Welcome back.
If we don't see Ronaldo in the Champions League again, what a legacy he leaves behind 🐐— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 16, 2022
✅ Most goals
✅ Most knockout goals
✅ Most assists
✅ Most goals in a single season
✅ Most titles
✅ Most hat tricks
✅ Most appearances
✅ Most consecutive games scored in pic.twitter.com/oXscH7l4Jl
With Ronaldo drawing his first blank in 12 years, here is a look at the last time a selection of his elite contemporaries were forced to endure their last annus horribilis.
Lionel Messi (last trophyless season: 2019-20, Barcelona)
Messi won a grand total of 34 major trophies during his long association with Barcelona, though he did suffer the occasional barren season between the vast waves of success. Indeed, you only have to go back to his penultimate season to find the last time Messi finished without any significant silverware to his name as Barca finished second in LaLiga behind Real Madrid while also exiting the Champions League and Copa del Rey at the quarterfinal stage. Before that, Messi endured two back-to-back trophyless campaigns at Camp Nou in 2006-07 and 2007-08, before Pep Guardiola took charge and ushered in a new era of near-unbridled success with the young Messi leading his line.
Robert Lewandowski (2007-08, Znicz Pruszkow)
Just as his superhuman goal-scoring feats have been unwavering over the years, so has Lewandowski's habit of ending any given season with at least one major honour to his name. While his first two seasons as a budding teenage pro in his home country failed to yield any top-level silverware, a Polish Cup and Super Cup double in his debut season with Lech Poznan in 2008-09 saw Lewandowski claim the first two of 25 major trophies in his career. Since that point, the ceaselessly prolific striker has won at least one trophy per season with multiple doubles, trebles and even spectacular quintuples (2019-20) following his free transfer to Bayern Munich from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2014.
Kylian Mbappe (2015-16, Monaco)
After coming through the youth ranks as an electrifying prodigy at Monaco, Mbappe made his first-team debut for the Ligue 1 side in 2015-16, though had to wait until the following season (2016-17) to win his first Ligue 1 title. Since then, the fleet-footed forward has mustered at least one major title per season including an impressive domestic quadruple -- league title, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue (now defunct) and Trophee des Champions -- with Paris Saint-Germain in 2019-20. Having already won all there is to win in his homeland by the age of 23, it remains to be seen whether Mbappe intends to try his hand a little further afield next season.
Neymar (2012-13, Santos)
After kicking off his mercurial career with three league and cup doubles in three seasons at Santos, Neymar ran dry in his final season in Brazil and failed to add any farewell silver to his burgeoning collection before departing for Barcelona. Since his move to Catalonia for the 2013-14 campaign through to his time at Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar is yet to finish a season with at least one major trophy in the bag, He has won a Champions League and five league titles among the 18 club honours he's collected during almost nine years in European football, and PSG have such a commanding lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table this season that surely even they can't lose it from here.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2020-21, AC Milan)
One of the most decorated footballers of the modern age, Ibrahimovic has collected 33 trophies since he first went pro with Malmo way back in 1999. While the Champions League has eluded him, the Swede can claim to have won top-tier league titles in the Netherlands (with Ajax), Italy (Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan), Spain (Barcelona) and France (Paris Saint-Germain) as well as a host of other domestic and European cups. Given the length of his ongoing career, the 40-year-old has naturally experienced his fair share of trophyless campaigns, having failed to add any trophies to his collection since winning the Europa League with Manchester United in 2016-17. That said, he did embark on an epic run of success between 2003-04 and 2016-17 where he won a grand total of 30 major trophies in 13 years with just one trophyless season (2011-12, his first at PSG right at the start of their big-spending era) spoiling the streak.
Harry Kane (2011-12 to 2021-22, Tottenham Hotspur)
Over a decade since he made his first-team debut, 375 appearances and 242 goals later, 28-year-old striker Kane is still yet to win his first trophy as a Tottenham player. The closest the England captain has ever come to breaking his unenviable duck is a handful of runner-up medals in the Champions League (2018-19) and the League Cup (2014-15 and 2020-21). Jeering aside, it should be said that Kane's career hasn't been entirely devoid of silverware to this point: he won Millwall's Young Player of the Year award for 2011-12.