Manchester United were dumped out of the Champions League, after a 2-1 home loss to Sevilla. Following a goalless first leg, United needed to score in order to progress; however, it was Sevilla who stunned Old Trafford through Wissam Ben Yedder’s quickfire late double. Romelu Lukaku got one back a few minutes later, but needing to score two more times to progress, there just wasn’t enough time for United.
Here are three of the most important points from a disappointing night at Old Trafford
Mourinho’s inexplicable tactics cost United
Jose Mourinho had opted for a safety-first approach in the first leg, leading to a game where United hardly created any chances. This meant United had to score in the second leg if they were to proceed to the quarter-finals; maybe even more than once given the threat of Sevilla bagging an away goal. With this backdrop, it was genuinely astonishing that Mourinho started with a midfield two of Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini. Both midfielders’ primary responsibilities were to screen the defence, with Fellaini joining Lukaku upfront two become a two-man battering ram during goalkicks. This selection meant that United were disjointed, as they regularly failed to link midfield and attack, and kept giving the ball away to Sevilla. While Fellaini has many qualities, playmaking is not one of them, and the Belgian struggled to have a positive impact on proceedings, as Sevilla had more of the ball, and created a number of chances in the first half. What was more galling was to see Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford playing as auxiliary fullbacks whenever Sevilla attacked; there was no need to give the Spanish side this much respect, who were there for the taking defensively. A statistic doing the rounds after the game summed up where United lost this tie; Sevilla had a staggering 45 attempts on goal over the two legs, dwarfing United’s tally, and exposing Mourinho’s defensive approach as a failure. Ultimately, United’s flair players were only summoned once United were trailing, and the Red Devils ran out of time, in a game where they needed to take the initiative from the start.
Sanchez struggling to fit in
Alexis Sanchez has now played ten games for United since his arrival in January, and has only one goal, a rebound off a saved penalty, to show for his efforts. While Sanchez brings a lot more than just goals to the side, he was expected to contribute heavily on that front, as a Premier League veteran with a good goalscoring record while at Arsenal. However, the Chilean has looked isolated on the pitch, rarely linking up with his fellow attackers in the way he used to as a Gunner. Mourinho’s tactics have a lot to do with this; United’s attacking players often find themselves without any support, and hence easily dispossessed. Sanchez has tried to up the tempo of United’s passing whenever possible, with one-touch flicks and wall passes, and he also attempts passes which others do not, in the hope of unlocking defences. Nevertheless, whether through his own shortcomings or Mourinho’s tactical straitjacket, United’s marquee signing has not had the impact he would have hoped to have, with Tuesday night being another example of his ineffectiveness.
Mourinho attempts to deflect fool nobody
After the game, Jose Mourinho attempted to shrug off this defeat as “not the end of the world”, stating that “I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and knocked United out of the Champions League, with Real or Porto, so I don’t think it is something new for the club.” His attempt to paint a round-of-16 departure as usual for a club like United would have enraged supporters, particularly after he himself stated a few days ago that the Champions League is Manchester United’s natural habitat. Having reached the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in four years, fans were entitled to expect a lot more than the limp way in which the team crashed out of the competition, especially after seeing Manchester City and Liverpool breeze through their ties, and Chelsea and Tottenham match their illustrious opponents blow-for-blow. This tie was another indication that Mourinho’s risk-free approach is only tolerable as long as it gets the job done, as against Liverpool on the weekend. He now only has the FA Cup as a realistic trophy target for this season, and even winning it may not be enough to label this a successful season. In years to come, this defeat to Sevilla may be seen as the beginning of Mourinho’s unravelling at United.