Manchester United came away with a 0-0 draw against Sevilla; a satisfactory result for Jose Mourinho, as a win at Old Trafford will be enough to send the Red Devils through. The performance, however, left a lot to be desired, as Sergio Rico had almost nothing to do for the entire game, while Sevilla could have easily won this game if they had shown better composure in front of goal.
Here are the major talking points from the game:
Pogba’s omission baffles, raises questions
Social media was abuzz a couple of hours before kickoff, as news came through that Paul Pogba would be on the bench for this game. The starting lineup confirmed this, with Mourinho opting for a midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and Ander Herrera. It seemed like a deliberate put-down to Pogba on Jose’s part, especially after he had opened United’s training session before this game to the media in order to show them that Pogba was fully fit. Mourinho has seemed less enamoured with Pogba of late, and playing the formation that best suits him without him seemed like another clear message to the Frenchman: shape up or ship out. Pogba did come on a lot sooner than expected, as Herrera pulled up with a hamstring problem within the first 20 minutes. He had a subdued game, as did the whole of United’s team, which may have vindicated Mourinho’s decision in the short-term. However, this is a fight he did not need to pick and both player and manager need to work together to correct whatever issues may exist in order to avoid this from overshadowing the rest of the season.
United were feeble as an attacking threat, with just a single shot on target. Sevilla, on the other hand, forced 12 corners to United’s 4, and had a staggering 25 shots on goal, of which 8 were on target. That they do not go into the second leg with a significant advantage owes a lot to the lack of quality to their finishing, but David de Gea had an important role to play too. He made two superb saves as the first half was winding down. The first from a Clement Lenglet header which he tipped over the bar. The second was even more astonishing, and probably one of the most outstanding saves of the season. Luis Muriel was unmarked and powered a header at goal from six yards or so, but De Gea managed to throw out a hand and divert it over the bar. While the attempt was fairly close to him, the Spaniard’s reaction speed, as well as strength to deflect the ball over and not into his goal, were remarkable. The Sevilla players acknowledged this, as Muriel gave De Gea a congratulatory embrace when half-time was called. De Gea made a number of routine stops throughout the game and played his way out of trouble with his feet on a couple of occasions as well. United would have a significantly tougher task in the second leg were it not for their Spanish stopper, as once again David de Gea burnished his credentials as the best goalkeeper in the world.
Mourinho needs to find balance between defence and attack
While keeping a clean sheet away from home can never be scoffed at, the complete lack of potency from United’s attack should worry Mourinho. The 4-3-3 he set up the side to play in struggled initially as Sevilla passed the ball around United. The Red Devils grew into the game, without ever taking control of it or posing a significant threat to Sergio Rico’s goal. Alexis Sanchez had started coming deep to try and influence the game within the first 10 minutes, as United’s front three were isolated. Lukaku gamefully tried to hold up the ball, but was rarely successful as he would be surrounded by three or four Sevilla players in an instant. Lack of attacking quality aside, United’s defensive showing was good, albeit Sevilla did have at least three good opportunities to take the lead. Mourinho’s team have tended to the extremes this season: either blowing teams away or struggling to have an impact offensively. He needs to find a happy balance between the attacking and defensive sides of the game if United are to progress to the quarter-finals, and indeed further on.