United firm favourites for Sevilla tie as Mourinho aims for further European success
Following a couple of below-par performances recently, Manchester United will seek redemption in the Champions League round of 16 this week, with a short trip to Seville to take on the kings of the Europa League. By Kris Gourlay and Euan Archibald
Manchester United head into tonight’s Champions League game in Seville following a poor spell of form. The high-flying, free-scoring United that we witnessed at the very start of the season has been missing since October, when an ultra-defensive approach to secure a draw at Anfield followed by a loss away at Huddersfield seemingly killed the team’s attacking momentum.
Jose Mourinho’s men should be eyeing up Sevilla as a way to show the world of football their quality on the biggest stage. United have not competed in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2014 and this year marks 10 years since they beat Chelsea in Moscow to win the competition; a standout performance would go some way to reaffirming that the club belongs at this level.
Sevilla are currently 5th in La Liga and while they famously won the Europa League three years in a row between 2014 and 2016, their European pedigree does not seem to carry over to the Champions League. Last season they were knocked out at this stage by Leicester City, who were in a relegation battle at the time, and it would be a massive upset if United were not to progress given the disparity in quality of the two teams.
While United’s current position of 2nd in the Premier League is a marked improvement on last season’s embarrassing 6th place, it is often difficult to see it that way as local rivals Manchester City run away with the league.
A run of five wins a row and the signing of Alexis Sanchez from rivals Arsenal seemed to show signs of United getting their season back on track, however in recent weeks they have been beaten away from home by an inconsistent Tottenham Hotspur, conceding within 15 seconds, and Newcastle, who possess one of the poorest attacking line-ups in the league.
Even United’s most recent game, a 2-0 victory at Huddersfield in the FA Cup was a fairly unconvincing snatch-and-grab with both goals coming from the often criticised Lukaku. Could a convincing performance in the upcoming round of 16 game propel United into some consistent form towards the business end of the season?
Sevilla head into the game with injures to centre back Simon Kjaer, Sebastien Corchia and former Manchester City man Nolito, who will be devastated not to feature against his former rival. United travel with a near-enough fully fit squad, with Rashford and Herrera both expected to make their comeback from injury. Paul Pogba is a doubt due to illness but Mourinho certainly won’t be short of options to dismantle the Spanish opposition.
Team selection certainly has been a problem for Mourinho this year due to injuries and a lack of coordination in the team. The only nailed on starters on Tuesday night should be De Gea, Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Sanchez and Antonio Valencia, with the remaining six being inconclusive.
One of the more interesting developments of United’s season has been at left-back. The team entered the season with no real established option, but Mourinho now has two consistent performers in Ashley Young and Luke Shaw to choose from, giving him somewhat of a selection headache.
The signing of Sanchez has caused some controversy amongst the United fanbase. While undoubtedly a world-class player, United are now in the strange position of having three forward who perform best through the middle or the left, but who also all struggle on the right; these being Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. There isn’t room for them all.
Mourinho undoubtedly has a difficult call to make regarding squad selection but whatever team he fields, it will not lack conviction. An away goal would leave a sweet taste in the mouth of the travelling United fans, as would a performance similar to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Porto last week. Either way, a gutsy performance in Seville is required if United are to stamp their authority on the competition that they made theirs all those years ago.