Champions League, February 21 2018
Manchester United emerged from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie as favourites to progress, but they were far from their best in this cagey affair in Seville. An early injury to Ander Herrera saw Jose Mourinho turn to Paul Pogba after controversially leaving United’s record signing out of his starting XI, but the Frenchman had little impact in a team performance focused more on defensive solidity than attacking intent. But for one world-class David de Gea save from a Luis Muriel header shortly before half-time, the visitors could have lost – but the hosts rarely threatened in a disappointing second half and United looked happy to settle for a clean sheet.
Shots / On target
Passes / Accurate
Fouls / Yellow / Red
Vincenzo Montella’s side started in a 4-4-1-1 formation in both attack and defence. The Italian manager put the emphasis on his team’s wing play, looking to use the pace and directness of Jesus Navas and Pablo Sarabia on the right, and Sergio Escudero and Joaquin Correa on the left, with Franco Vazquez operating in the hole behind striker Luis Muriel.
In the defensive third, Sevilla kept a solid defensive structure, maintaining a numerical advantage to limit Manchester United’s threat in potential shooting positions and relying on the central midfielders to mark Nemanja Matic, early substitute Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. Steven N’Zonzi in particular brought balance to the team in the middle of the park, looking to protect his back four throughout, while Clement Lenglet impressed in his individual battle with Romelu Lukaku. The French centre-back anticipated the movement of the Belgian to prevent him from getting in behind, and dealt efficiently with the direct approach employed by their opponents.
In attack, the hosts alternated between direct play into the towering N’Zonzi and combination play, when their centre-backs had space to exchange short passes. Their main aim was to transfer possession to Ever Banega or N’Zonzi as swiftly and safely as possible, from where the midfield pair would look to get the ball wide to the wingers and overlapping runs of both full-backs. In the final third, the tactic was to get crosses in towards Muriel as quickly as possible, taking advantage of any gaps in the visitors’ defence. It was from a Navas cross that the striker had the best chance of the game, but David de Gea saved brilliantly.
Sevilla played with a 4-4-1-1 formation in attack and defence. Manager Vincenzo Montella put the emphasis on their wing play: Jesus Navas and Pablo Sarabia on the right, and Sergio Escudero and Joaquin Correa on the left.
Conscious of the defensive frailties of early substitute Paul Pogba, the home side also offered a threat in the central channel. Here, Ever Banega finds Steven N’Zonzi in behind the Frenchman. Nemanja Matic is drawn towards the player in possession, freeing the space for Sevilla to find Correa in the final third.
Sevilla constantly looked for Correa as they looked to pierce the last line of the United defence. Here, the Argentinian drifts away from Antonio Valencia on the flank and is found by Banega, who is under little pressure from the opposition midfield, before hitting his shot straight at David de Gea.
Sevilla enjoyed some success with crosses from wide, as Montella looked to exploit the attacking intent of Navas and Sarabia down their right. Here, Navas has time and space to find Luis Muriel attacking the space between Valencia and Chris Smalling, only for the Colombian forward to be foiled by a spectacular de Gea stop.
The home side defended solidly in their final third, always maintaining a numerical advantage in potential shooting positions. The speed of the Sevilla defenders in getting to the ball first – in this case, Gabriel Mercado – kept the United forwards out of the match.
Jose Mourinho’s team adopted a 4-3-3 system in attack, dropping back to 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase you see here. Their medium block made life difficult for the Sevilla back four in possession, as they matched the opposition man to man with an intense pressing game. The press became more cautious following the early injury to Ander Herrera and arrival of Paul Pogba to replace him.
Mourinho had to modify his defensive strategy after the withdrawal of Herrera, who was tracking N’Zonzi while McTominay marked Banega. After the change, McTominay switched sides, leaving Pogba to operate on the left and focus on Banega.
United compressed the game, grouping together in the central channel, for a large part of the match. Mourinho prioritised defensive depth, making it tough for Sevilla to break through the inside of his defence.
The visitors were occasionally able to free themselves from Sevilla pressure in the opposition half. Here, Scott McTominay plays a through ball into Romelu Lukaku, who made runs between the lines throughout. The Belgian swaps passes with Juan Mata, who was able to open up the attacking third with his range of passing.
Mata was one of United’s standout players. His attacking movement both in midfield and the final third enabled him to connect easily with teammates, and create opportunities for them to break through the Sevilla defensive lines.
Analysis: Manchester United
Jose Mourinho’s team adopted a 4-3-3 system in attack, dropping back to 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase, with Nemanja Matic sitting in behind the midfield line. Their medium block made life difficult for the Sevilla back four in possession, as they went man for man with an intense pressing game across the middle. This press was more cautious, however, after an early injury forced the withdrawal of Ander Herrera and the introduction of Paul Pogba.
Out of possession, it was initially the job of Herrera and Scott McTominay to stay tight on the two Sevilla playmakers, respectively Steven N’Zonzi and Ever Banega. After Herrera’s departure, McTominay switched sides to cover N’Zonzi, with Pogba tasked with looking after Banega – but the Frenchman rarely challenged his opposite number closely enough, allowing him to initiate much of the home side’s forward progress.
United’s shape felt most comfortable when compressed inside their own half, channelling the attacks through packed central areas. McTominay was the standout player in this regard, always pressing the player in possession and working hard to help his teammates outnumber the rival attackers. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof had problems dealing with the movement of Luis Muriel in behind, but when the striker did find space in shooting positions he found David de Gea in typically resolute form.
In attack, the away side varied their tactics between direct play into Pogba and combination play inside their own half. Matic and McTominay were the first ports of call in such situations, with Lukaku – whose movement between the Sevilla lines was notable – often the next target. The Belgian combined well with the impressive Juan Mata, whose attacking movement and vision in midfield and the final third represented United’s chief threat. Despite this, they never really managed to unsettle a well-organised and compact Sevilla defence.
David de Gea stood out between the posts, again, for Manchester United. The Spanish goalkeeper kept his team alive with several saves in dangerous one-on-one situations.
Jose Mourinho had to alter his game plan after the injury to Ander Herrera, but substitute Paul Pogba wasn’t as effective in his defensive duties – he too often allowed Ever Banega time and space to start attacking moves for Sevilla.
The Red Devils could only provide a scant offering going forwards. Despite the best efforts of Juan Mata, they failed to create regular situations of uncertainty for Sevilla in the final third, with Romelu Lukaku too isolated.
Sevilla’s wide pairings – Jesus Navas and Pablo Sarabia down the right, and Sergio Escudero and Joaquin Correa on the left – proved effective at carving out openings in attacking areas. It was from a Navas cross that Muriel should have opened the scoring.