Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage on Tuesday night when they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla at Old Trafford. It was no less than what Jose Mourinho’s men deserved as they put in a limp display against their Spanish opponents, just three days after securing all three points against arch-rivals Liverpool.
It was a first-half to forget at the Theatre of Dreams, with both sides constantly giving away possession of the football and creating almost nothing in terms of goalmouth action. In the end, it was Sevilla forward Wissam Ben Yedder who came off the bench for the visitors and crushed United hearts with two quick-fire goals. Romelu Lukaku halved the deficit for the hosts but it was too little, too late as United suffered a humiliating Champions League exit.
There was some surprise at the start of the evening as Mourinho named midfielder Marouane Fellaini in central midfield ahead of Scott McTominay, with the Belgian making his first start in three months, whilst Juan Mata, a star performer against Liverpool at the weekend, dropped to the bench in place of Jesse Lingard. United’s front three looked potent enough, though, as Marcus Rashford – Saturday’s hero – earned his place in attack alongside Alexis Sanchez and Lukaku.
The home side made a relatively bright start to proceedings in the opening couple of minutes, with Lukaku and Lingard in particular, linking up nicely to create a couple of half chances. That early gusto was quickly replaced by lethargy and sloppiness, however, with Sevilla’s Joaquin Correa’s header providing the visitors with an early sight of goal. With barely a quarter of an hour played, Eric Bailly carelessly gave away possession in his own half but was let off the hook as Lucas Muriel blasted over from the edge of the box. That sloppiness seemed to be contagious, as midway through the first half, Rashford was guilty of needlessly conceding the ball, with Muriel once again profiting, only for the winger to flash the ball dangerously across David de Gea’s goal. The best chance of the half fell to Fellaini, as the Belgium international did well to wrestle back possession before playing a smart one-two with Sanchez but saw his left-footed effort pushed away by Sergio Rico for a corner kick.
If the Old Trafford faithful was expecting a much-improved performance after the interval, they were about to be sorely disappointed. Lax United defending saw Correa go clean through on goal, one-on-one with de Gea and would have most likely found the back of the net were it not for Bailly’s excellent last-ditch tackle to clear the danger. A few minutes later, the Reds looked to have upped the ante, as Lingard saw his well-taken effort tipped away by Rico following some smart play by Lukaku, who put in another pleasing performance despite the disappointing scoreline. Moments later, Mourinho made his first substitution of the night, bringing on the returning Paul Pogba for Fellaini in the hope that the France international would be able to rediscover his top form and drag United to victory. Shortly after his introduction, Pogba tried his luck from long range, although his left-footed effort ended up drifting onto the wrong side of the post.
It would be Sevilla’s substitute, however, who would go on to settle the tie. Ben Yedder had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes for Vincenzo Montella’s men and quickly provided the Andalusians with the clinical finishing that they had been lacking over the two legs. After Antonio Valencia carelessly gave away possession on the right-hand side of defence, the ball made its way to the 27-year-old who needed just two quick touches to set himself before firing past de Gea and stunning Old Trafford into silence.
The tie was as good as over a couple of minutes later when Ben Yedder doubled Sevilla’s lead with a close-range finish following some poor United defending from a corner. Mourinho responded by making a double change, throwing on Juan Mata and Anthony Martial in place of Lingard and Valencia but there seemed to be no way back for the hosts. Chris Smalling and Lukaku both spurned good opportunities to reduce the deficit and restore belief, before the Belgian pulled a goal back for United with seven minutes remaining, smashing home from close range following a Rashford corner. T
he Reds poured men forward in search of an unlikely comeback, leaving oceans of space behind them and Sevilla had a couple of good chance to rub salt in United wounds, with Ben Yedder being denied his hat-trick by the right leg of de Gea.
However, it was not to be and United paid the price for a poor approach to both legs but must now pick themselves up in time for the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final.