Just three days after a rousing win over Liverpool, Manchester United return to Champions League action with everything still to play for in the second leg versus Sevilla. Last month, the Reds barely survived their trip to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, coming home with a 0-0 draw thanks to David De Gea’s heroics in goal.
Performances must improve on Tuesday, as Sevilla outshot United 25-6 in the first leg. But there won’t be any margin for error since United failed to score an away goal in Spain. Any score draw will knock the Reds out of the Champions League.
Thankfully, visiting teams rarely find joy at Old Trafford these days. In twenty home matches in 2017/18, United have won seventeen with only one loss. Even better, they are rounding into form at exactly the right time.
Since that dour day at Sevilla, United have reeled off three straight wins and regained their footing after a choppy February. Jose Mourinho’s men needed comebacks to beat Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but wasted no time in grabbing control of Saturday’s match against Liverpool.
A first-half brace from Marcus Rashford proved the difference. Although Liverpool had 68% possession, they did little with it — mustering only two shots on goal. In fact, their only goal came courtesy of United’s Eric Bailly, who made his first start for the club since returning from ankle surgery. That gaffe aside, Bailly played well and provided much-needed strength and speed to the United defense.
Rashford’s man-of-the-match display made up for two big absences in Mourinho’s lineup. Paul Pogba was a late scratch after reportedly being gashed on the leg during Friday’s training session. If that’s the extent of his injury, Pogba might be fit in time for Sevilla.
Anthony Martial also sat out with a thigh injury. He’s now missed two straight games and must be considered doubtful for Tuesday. Even so, Martial would have found it difficult to dislodge Rashford from the starting eleven after his game-winning goals at the weekend.
Marouane Fellaini returned from injury to make a second-half cameo against Liverpool and Mourinho couldn’t be happier to have him back. “I want to praise every player, but Fellaini had to go to knee surgery,” he said at his postgame press conference. “To return ahead of time, he did fantastic work to recover outside the club with the people who have his trust. He arrived to train a couple of days ago and made himself available.”
Still missing, though, are Daley Blind, Phil Jones, and Marcos Rojo. All have been sidelined for more than a month with no updates on their fitness. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in training and will no doubt be pushing to make the bench on Tuesday.
One player growing in importance every week is Scott McTominay. The 21-year-old midfielder hounded Sevilla’s Ever Banega throughout the first leg and will likely be called upon to reprise that role, especially after a strong performance against Liverpool. McTominay’s young legs pair well with the power and experience of Nemanja Matic.
Keep an eye on Jesse Lingard — one more booking and he will be suspended for the next Champions League match.
Sevilla have not fared nearly so well as United since the first meeting on February 21. They have lost twice in that span, including a 5-2 thrashing by Atletico Madrid and a 2-0 reverse against Valencia on Saturday.
The Valencia loss is especially damaging, as Sevilla now trail them by 11 points for the final Champions League spot in La Liga. With only ten matches remaining in the league season, their odds don’t look good.
Even more troubling, Marca reports that winger Jesus Navas is doubtful to make the trip to Manchester. He played the full 90 minutes in the first leg and will be a big loss for Sevilla.
Manchester United enter this pivotal round-of-sixteen decider on a major high. The squad’s confidence must be through the roof after big wins over top four rivals Chelsea and Liverpool. But there has been a sign of trouble lurking behind the positive results — no clean sheets in the last three matches. Any goals surrendered to Sevilla on Tuesday could prove fatal to United’s Champions League future.
Mourinho needs to tighten his defense — although they mostly looked great against Liverpool — and ride the scoring touch of Rashford and Romelu Lukaku to another big Champions League victory.