Champions League: Sevilla vs Manchester United – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Jose Mourinho takes his side to Spain on Wednesday for their fixture against European cup specialists Sevilla.
19:45 GMT, Wednesday 21st February, Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium (Seville, Spain), BT Sport
Manchester United’s Champions League pretensions continue on Wednesday with a tricky away fixture against Spanish side Sevilla.
Known around the continent for being European Cup specialists, Sevilla picked up three Europa League titles in three years between 2014 and 2016.
However, since then, the club have faltered somewhat. Manager Unai Emery left for PSG in the summer of 2017, along with director of football Monchi, and his replacements have failed to match his pedigree.
This season, Eduardo Berizzo, he of Liverpool-felling fame, was sacked just before Christmas, being replaced by AC Milan’s recently-deposed coach Vincenzo Montella.
Since joining, Montella’s squad has been beset by injury. However, he has still managed to achieve more than many thought possible. Sevilla sit fifth in La Liga and have a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona to look forward to.
Their opponents on Wednesday, Manchester United, come into this encounter in mixed form. Although they have managed to hold onto the second spot that has been their own since September last year, their season has been far from impressive by their high standards.
Now too far adrift from cross-city rivals Manchester City and out of the Carabao Cup, Mourinho will be setting his sights on the FA Cup and the Champions League.
This Champions League Round of 16 fixture should be negotiated comfortably enough but, with Sevilla’s European pedigree, it is impossible to write them off too easily.
Last Time Out
Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla (La Liga)
This was a far from comfortable match for the away team who, despite going 2-0 up just after the interval, contrived to make the game as difficult as they could from that point onwards.
In the first half, Wissam Ben Yedder opened the scoring for Sevilla, poking home at the back post after Pablo Sarabia’s shot was palmed away by Leandro Chichizola, the Las Palmas goalkeeper.
After the break, Sarabia turned goalscorer: nipping in to slot home Franco Vázquez’s cross.
When Alen Halilovic drew a foul in the Sevilla penalty box in the 82nd minute and Jonathan Calleri scored the resulting spot kick, the hosts were given a glimmer of hope.
They will have felt hard done by when, moments later, Alejandro Gálvez had the ball in the back of the net. The linesman had signalled that the goal was offside. However, replays suggests that it should have stood.
Huddersfield 0-2 Manchester United (FA Cup)
Despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise, Jose Mourinho’s side had to work hard to progress into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup with David Wagner’s Huddersfield giving a good account of themselves.
When Romelu Lukaku latched onto Juan Mata’s through ball in the third minute before sending the ball past the helpless Jonas Lossl in the Huddersfield goal, it looked as if the match could become a procession.
However, Wagner’s team buckled down and held on until the 55th minute where, yet again, the Belgian striker was well-fed by a teammate – Alexis Sanchez in this case – and made no doubt about it.
The match was not without its controversy though. When Mata’s goal was given offside, the replays used a faulty graphic from Hawk-eye – the VAR technology providers – which came replete with wobbly lines on the pitch showing Mata offside.
The graphic rectified, it became apparent that Mata’s patella was in an offside position, raising questions about the remit of the video assistant referee.
Vincenzo Montella’s squad has been beset with injuries in recent months, with Ever Banega, Luis Muriel and Nolito all missing games in the last month. All three are back in training but it is unclear whether or not they will start on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Joaquin Correa also picked up a hamstring pull at the weekend and it is unclear if he will feature against Manchester United.
Manchester United Lineup
Jose Mourinho is only without long-term absentee Zlatan Ibrahimovic although Eric Bailly is only just returned from an ankle operation and had only picked up one minute of competitive football since then. He may well be rushed back into the Manchester United back line, though, given their shakiness in recent weeks.
Paul Pogba, out for the FA Cup match against Huddersfield through illness, is expected to return on Wednesday.
Key Battle: Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla) vs Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
A battle of two midfielders, the fixture on Wednesday offers the stage for an interesting matchup of personnel.
Paul Pogba’s spat (or non-spat, depending on who you read) with Jose Mourinho in recent weeks has raised this match to a different level when it comes to watching the French midfielder. Will he finally be given his prefered berth on the left-hand side of a midfield three? And, if he is, will he take it?
The Pogba narrative has become hackneyed in the course of this season. The fact of the matter is, unless the former Juventus player can start influencing big matches for his team, there is little doubt that his time at the club will have been something of a disappointment.
Wednesday’s fixture offers him the perfect entry-point to begin re-writing his Wikipedia entry.
Steven N’Zonzi knows all too well the power of narratives. Often over-looked in his more defensive roles at both Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City, it wasn’t until he arrived at Sevilla in 2015 that he really achieved the recognition that his performances deserved.
On Wednesday, he’ll be tasked with the responsibility of tracking Pogba’s runs into the left half-space, whilst also covering Alexis Sanchez when he inevitably jinks inside to try to shoot with his stronger right foot.
How good are Sevilla this time around?
It’s hard to judge exactly how good Sevilla are at this point. Finishing second in a group with Spartak Moscow and Maribor is hardly an impressive feat and, although they managed two draws against Liverpool, there are arguments to be made that both matches were fortuitous in their own ways.
Since the arrival of Montella at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Los Rojiblancos have given a good account of themselves but, again, there are questions about just how good they are. As their match against Las Palmas showed, they boast an impressive attacking unit which is somewhat let down by their defence at times.
This first leg against Manchester United is their best chance to lay down a defendable score to take with them back to Old Trafford.
Can Mourinho bring his golden touch to the Champions League?
It’s become something of a tradition to cite Mourinho’s successes in the Champions League whenever talking about Manchester United’s chances in the tournament.
However, one thing that has become obvious at least as far as the Premier League is that the Portuguese manager’s characteristic magic has worn off somewhat in recent months.
Of course, any team can lose to any team – just ask Wigan fans this morning. But Manchester United haven’t looked consistent enough at times to manage wins over two legs.
Unless Mourinho can get his time firing, their Round of 16 encounters have all the ingredients for an upset.
Prediction: Sevilla 1-2 Manchester United
It’s hard to see Manchester United messing this one up. Despite his up-and-down season, Jose Mourinho is the master of knockout competition. Expect him to manage the game carefully leaving Sevilla needing to score two goals at Old Trafford.