Europa League quarter-final action sees Manchester United travel to Spain for the fourth time this season, this time to take on Sevilla FC in the second leg of a finely placed tie.
Sevilla have had a tough time this season, struggling to get results in the league, and even finding themselves in the bottom three midway through the season. Similarly, they had a torrid time in the Champions League, eventually dropping to the Europa League and just scraping past PSV and Fenerbahce in the previous knockout rounds to set up a clash with United. Their league form, however, has improved since Jorge Sampaoli was fired and Jose Luis Mendilibar was brought in to replace him. In the four games that the Spaniard has managed, Sevilla have won 2 and drawn two, helping them climb up to 13th and gradually go about stabilizing the club and avoiding a shock relegation. They now sit eight points clear of the bottom three and can now go about closing the gap to the top half of the table. A 23/24 season without European football seems an almost certainty for them, with the Europa League representing the only chance they have of salvaging a tough season and playing in Europe next season.
Manchester United were last in action against Nottingham Forest as they put the disappointment of Thursday’s draw behind them with a confident 2-0 win away from home. The Red Devils showed their quality despite missing a large chunk of their regular starting eleven and came away with three vital points. It was a good weekend for United as they put some space between themselves and the chasing pack in the race for the top four, with Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspurs both losing their respective games. That win meant the Mancunians climbed back up into third, three points ahead of the Magpies and six points ahead of Spurs, with an extra game in hand.
Both clubs went through a rollercoaster of emotions last week, as the 2-2 draw had it all. Manchester United started the game on the front foot, with Jadon Sancho putting the ball into the net within the first two minutes. The goal was disallowed for offside, but that did not deter the hosts as they kept coming after Sevilla. Antony came close to opening the scoring for his side but the heroics of Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bonou ensured the scores remained level. The deadlock was finally broken when United captain Bruno Fernandes laid a perfect pass through to Marcel Sabitzer who made no mistake putting the ball past Bono. Just minutes later the Austrian was on the scoresheet yet again, with Anthony Martial the provider this time as United romped to a 2-0 lead. If not for the wonderful saves from Bono, the Red Devils may have had a mighty and unassailable lead.
However, it was a completely different Man United side that came out for the second half. The hosts were complacent and their passing was sloppy, in stark contrast to the first half where United constructed silky passing moves. Despite their drop in quality, Sevilla could not breach the home defense, until United left-back Tyrell Malacia switched off momentarily which allowed Jesus Navas to get in behind and his cutback deflected off the Dutchman and squeezed past de Gea, handing Sevilla a lifeline. Things went from bad to worse for the home side as they lost their influential defender Lisandro Martinez to an injury and played the last 10 minutes with ten men, having made all five substitutions before the injury. Then came the dagger from Seville, as Youssef En-Nesyri rose high to head the ball and it deflected off Harry Maguire’s face, bamboozling de Gea. Two own goals leveled scores and United were quite literally the reason for their downfall.
The action from the first leg confirmed that Sevilla, despite their troubles, loves playing in the Europa League, and will not go down without a fight. If the Red Devils felt comfortable at half-time, they were in for a shock and now the onus is firmly on them to produce a spirited performance at a tough place. United have not won against Sevilla in their last four meetings, having lost twice and drawn twice. The English outfit has a depleted look right now, and the Spaniards will hope to take advantage of that. However, United still have enough quality in their ranks to go through, and it all makes for an intriguing proposition as the Red Devils prepare to write the latest chapter of their adventures in Spain.
WHEN AND WHERE:
Date: Thursday, 20th April 2023.
Time: 8.00 pm BST
Venue: Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Seville.
Sevilla right-back Gonzalo Montiel picked up a yellow card in the first leg at Old Trafford bringing his total to three, meaning he is suspended for the return leg.
Manchester United have a big injury list with several key players set to miss out on Thursday night. The first-leg draw saw the Red Devils lose their first-choice centre-back pairing, with Raphael Varane being substituted at half-time with an unknown injury and Lisandro Martinez being carried off the pitch after fracturing his fifth metatarsal. While it is unclear how long Varane will be on the sidelines, Licha Martinez has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, in a big blow to Man United. United’s star forward Marcus Rashford has been out since suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s game against Everton and is expected to miss out again on Thursday. Marcel Sabitzer suffered a similar injury issue during the warm-up before playing Nottingham Forest and was replaced by Eriksen in the lineup. Alejandro Garnacho, Donny van de Beek, and Scott McTominay have been ruled out with long-term injuries. Luke Shaw is close to a return but remains to see if he recovers in time.
Adding insult to injury in last week’s draw in the first leg was United’s talisman Bruno Fernandes picking up a very harsh third yellow card of the campaign, meaning he will miss the second leg. However, in some relief to United fans, Christian Eriksen made his first start on Sunday, since returning from injury. He played 70 minutes and looked in astute form, and will be expected to start in place of Fernandes on Thursday night.
Manchester United fans have been waiting for this man to return from injury and he has not been disappointed since his return. He has been fluid in attack, dropping deep at times and creating goalscoring opportunities for those around him. The former Sevilla loanee showed his class on the ball, beating defenders with his trickery, and had a hand in both goals on Thursday. He started the move for the first goal with some lovely ball retention, skipping away from two defenders and feeding the oncoming United support. Then he assisted the second just a few minutes later, picking out Sabitzer with a wonderful through ball. The Frenchman was brilliant all night and Sevilla defenders could not get close to the number 9, as he linked up well with Antony and Sancho on either flank. With Rashford out, Martial has shouldered the burden admirably up to now and United will need him again in Spain.
SEVILLA FC XI: Yassine Bonou; Jesus Navas, Loic Bade, Nemanja Gudelj, Marcos Acuna; Joan Jordan, Ivan Rakitic; Lucas Ocampos, Suso, Erik Lamela, Youssef En-Nesyri.
MANCHESTER UNITED XI: David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Christian Eriksen, Jadon Sancho; Anthony Martial.