When the final whistle blew at Old Trafford Tuesday evening most fans had left already. The Sevilla section was rocking, and the Spanish side had finally broken through to the quarterfinals of a competition where consistency has eluded them. Manchester United, on the other hand, looked dejected after a performance that lacked energy and quality. The three time Champions League winners produced no memorable moments. Even with a late goal from Romelu Lukaku the match was all but over. Sevilla triumphed 2-1 on the night and on aggregate.
Manchester United looked as though they had already lost the game by the time Wissam Ben Yedder knocked in his second goal. Anyone could see it in the defending from United that they had lost any momentum they might have had. Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling, all players who had chances to give United a goal, but all failed to do so.
José Mourinho said it himself in the manager’s press conference, United aren’t good enough to win the Champions League. They weren’t even good enough to advance past the round of 16.
This wasn’t a tie that seemed difficult for United, and many pundits and writers even labelled Sevilla as the ideal round of 16 matchup for the Reds, but from the opening minutes of the first leg they looked like a Championship team playing for a draw in a cup match against a bigger club. The midfield had no control over either leg, Eric Bailly and David De Gea seemed to be on their own in defense, and the chances for the attackers didn’t seem to come until they were already down 2-0. The poor build up play and inability to keep the ball only added to Sevilla’s confidence. It was only a matter of time before they scored. Mourinho’s tactics were also not up to the challenge in either leg. De Gea was under siege in the first leg with a defensive setup, and the moment United tried to go for the win in the second leg Sevilla swept in with Ben Yedder, who scored both goals.
Mourinho and Manchester United have been exposed as a team with remarkable talent and potential who still have not gotten themselves together. No matter how close it seems to being a complete side, they aren’t there yet and have quite a bit of work to do.
So where do they go from here? That’s the question on the minds of many of the United faithful. The fact of the matter is that this is a week that will make or break United’s season. They’re off to a wretched start, but an FA Cup quarter final at Old Trafford against Brighton awaits them at the weekend and there’s no time to dwell on missed opportunities. That does not mean that there isn’t something to be taken from those missed opportunities. The only productive thing to do with this defeat is learn from it and move on to the next opportunity.
Barring an incredible Manchester City 8 game losing streak, the FA Cup is United’s last chance at a trophy this season. Mourinho has only lifted the trophy once before, in 2007 with Chelsea over United, and a steady flow of silverware isn’t just what the fans and board want again, it fuels the process of building a consistent, championship quality team that competes to win every competition.