19:45 GMT, Tuesday 13th March, Old Trafford (Manchester, England), BT Sport
Manchester United host Sevilla on Tuesday in a match that will see the winner going through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
After what was viewed by many Manchester United fans as a disappointing result, Jose Mourinho’s side laboured to a 0-0 draw at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Seville in the first leg. This was a Sevilla side who, not to do them a disservice, have conceded five goals on no less than four occasions this season, including to sides like Real Betis and Eibar.
Disappointment aside, though, Manchester United will care little should they do what is expected of them on Tuesday and ease past the Spanish side.
Their against-the-odds win at Old Trafford against Liverpool on Saturday shows just how low the expectations of the side have fallen in recent times.
Yes, they have almost certainly assured themselves of a second-place finish in the league. But they have given little indication that they are in any rush to rouse themselves from the sleepwalking that has punctuated their season.
Perhaps all this is about to change with the visit of Vincenzo Montella on Tuesday. But, on the sheer weight of evidence this season, expect more of the same: doing just enough to keep the fans happy, the board appeased and the season ticking over.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Manchester United came into this fixture the bookmakers underdogs for the first time since the 1980s but, in the end, Jose Mourinho’s tactics worked out for the best as his side eked out a 2-0 win.
Going two goals up early on in the game through the clinical Marcus Rashford, Manchester United spent the second half encamped in their own half.
When Eric Bailly inexplicably put the ball beyond David de Gea in the Manchester United goal – how many players can say that this season? – it looked as though Liverpool might manage to steal a point from their rivals.
However, in the end, Manchester United’s deep block held firm and kept Liverpool’s Fab Four minus One at bay to retain all three points.
Sevilla 0-2 Valencia (La Liga)
Since playing Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, Sevilla have failed to win on two occasions in La Liga. The second of these losses came at the weekend against Valencia.
Despite the scoreline, Sevilla created chances. After falling a goal down, thanks to a smart finish from Valencia striker Rodrigo, Sevilla forced Neto into a number of saves before Luis Muriel hit the bar.
In the 68th minute, though, Rodrigo struck again after Sevilla failed to clear a Geoffrey Kondogbia through ball. Once the two-goal advantage was reached, there was no coming back for Vincenzo Montella’s side.
Manchester United Lineup
With Paul Pogba missing the Liverpool match at the weekend, Jose Mourinho is likely to be without the Frenchman for the Champions League fixture. Pogba did not train with the team on Monday, suggesting his inclusion is very unlikely.
Elsewhere, Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to training this week but is still thought to be too early in his rehabilitation to be considered. Ander Herrera has a hamstring strain, while Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Anthony Martial remain doubts.
Although Sebastien Corchia has returned to training following a groin injury, he has not travelled with the squad to Manchester.
With Jesus Navas injured and Miguel Layun not registered for the Champions League, Vincenzo Montella with a bit of a selection headache. Expect Daniel Carrico to be played on the right as a solution to this conundrum.
Key Battle: Scott McTominay (Manchester United) vs Angel Correa (Sevilla)
One narrative that has run beneath the surface during this season at Old Trafford has been the role of Paul Pogba in the Manchester United midfield. After a falling out between Pogba and his manager regarding tactics, the Frenchman was dropped for a number of games.
With the majority of pundits claiming that Pogba’s best position is on the outside of a midfield three, Mourinho has only recently reinstated the 4-3-3 that served him so well at Chelsea in the early days.
However, with the formation now suiting the former Juventus midfielder, injury is keeping him out of the team meaning that Jose Mourinho has had to fall back on the services of the youngster Scott McTominay.
It is still not certain how much the Lancaster-born 21-year-old, who recently opted to play for Scotland internationally, will live up to his potential. After Mourinho came out after the Liverpool game criticising the fans who booed McTominay for his ‘negative’ play’, it will be interesting to see how the youngster deals with the pressure of a Champions League knockout fixture.
McTominay will be tasked with the responsibility of keeping Angel Correa quiet on Tuesday. The attacking player, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid, has been an important cog in the Sevilla machinery so far this season.
With seven goals in La Liga, the Argentine is yet to score in the Champions League. If he can manage to pick up a goal, the 23 year old will know that his club only need to draw to guarantee their progress in the competition.
Is Mourinho’s low block enough?
While it is all too easy to criticise assessments of Mourinho’s tactics this season as ‘negative’ – “It seems to be working out alright for him so far” – there is a sense in which the low-risk football that the Portuguese employs is deeply unfashionable in the Champions League.
Of course, as Mourinho would himself retort, the low block proved to be enough to negate Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford this season.
That said, in a competition that goes to two legs, it remains to be seen exactly how successful this approach can be against the grandees of the tournament.
With all-too-predictable regularity, Manchester United have yet to face a really elite opponent in the tournament this time around and so the real test could be about to come in the quarterfinals should they make it.
How should Montella approach this game?
At the back of his mind, Vincenzo Montella will be holding onto the fact that Manchester United have struggled against underdogs this season.
With Newcastle United stealing three points of Manchester United recently, Jose Mourinho’s side have also lost to Bristol City this season and dropped points to Stoke City.
If Montella can set up his side to play as underdogs, then it could be the case that his team comes away from the match with a place in the quarterfinals. If they come out to attack, though, they could find themselves out.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Sevilla
If anything has categorised Manchester United’s season it has been their ability to do just enough. Expect this to be the case on Tuesday.
An early goal will be sat upon for much of the game before a goal on the counter-attack late on to make sure of things should be the order of the day.
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