After a goalless tie in the first leg in Spain, everything is to play for when Manchester United host Sevilla in the second leg of their Champions League, last-16 tie at Old Trafford on Tuesday (19:45 GMT, live on BT Sport).
Sevilla had the better of the first encounter in terms of both territory and chances, but a combination of the brilliance of United goalkeeper David de Gea and their own slack finishing prevented them from building up an advantage ahead of the return.
The manner in which Man Utd set up in that match suggested they were more than happy to play for a draw. They committed very few men forward, leaving Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku as isolated figures for much of the game. They only really offered a genuine attacking threat following the late introductions of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
It was no surprise that Manchester United immediately looked more dangerous once those two players came on. Throughout the season, under both current coach Vincenzo Montella and his predecessor Eduardo Berizzo, Sevilla have really struggled when attacked at pace. Indeed, just four days after the first leg, they were thrashed 2-5 at home by Atletico Madrid.
In that context, Man Utd’s approach was puzzling, particularly given that Jose Mourinho had players like Rashford and Martial at his disposal. While a 0-0 first-leg draw against a team with as strong a home record as Sevilla certainly wasn’t a bad result, the lack of an away goal does leave United vulnerable if Sevilla are able to notch one themselves on Tuesday.
Mourinho’s side are still considered the favourites to progress, at a best price of 8/15 “to qualify” for the last eight with the UK online bookies as opposed to 7/4 for Sevilla. Those odds are despite Man Utd’s relatively weak record of one win, two draws and two defeats in their last five home matches against Spanish sides in European competition. Over the last couple of weeks, they have defeated two more accomplished sides than Sevilla in the form of Chelsea and Liverpool.
The second of those victories came at home to Liverpool on Saturday. Two goals from Rashford inside the opening 25 minutes put them on the path to victory and despite a second-half own goal from Eric Bailly, Man Utd were able to hold on and secure the three points. Liverpool enjoyed good attacking territory but weren’t able to force an equaliser. The result saw United move five points clear of their rivals in the battle for second place.
A few hours later, Sevilla fell to a 0-2 defeat at home to Valencia that all but ended their own hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League through their league finish. They are now 11 points shy of Valencia in the fight for fourth and it would require a major slump from their rivals for Sevilla to overhaul them over the course of the remaining 10 matches.
It was a familiar story for Montella’s side, as they dominated the ball and got into some decent attacking areas but were unable to force a goal. Valencia were well-organised defensively and struck two killer blows on the counter attack in either half to secure victory.
Montella has been more consistent in his selections than Berizzo was earlier in the season. Some interesting connections are being formed in attacking areas, but Sevilla are simply not clinical enough in front of goal to make up for a defensive unit that has shipped four or more goals on six occasions this season, three times since Montella took charge in January. They are alright against lesser opposition but direct rivals are able to exploit their weaknesses.
Sevilla were able to secure draws home and away to Liverpool during the Champions League group stage. While they have never won away to an English team in European competition, their 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Anfield was one of three score draws in those six matches that would be enough to get them through if repeated on Tuesday.
That is, however, unlikely. With Jesus Navas set to miss out through injury, Sevilla lack sufficient pace in deeper areas to drive forward and cause Man Utd problems in transition. United will surely take a more attacking approach than in the first leg and it is difficult to see Sevilla’s defence holding firm in the face of more concerted pressure.
Manchester United should therefore be expected to confirm the opinion of the bookmakers and secure the victory that would see them through to the last eight of the Champions League.