“Die or live,” is how Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho described their upcoming Champions League match against Sevilla and the following FA Cup quarter final against Brighton and Hove Albion. Mourinho has been building up to the Round of 16 second leg clash right from the time he gave his first interview after the 0-0 draw in Seville. The Portuguese had stated then that it is high time that Old Trafford experienced a big Champions League night.
He may have downplayed the importance of United’s win over Liverpool as compared to their upcoming fixtures but it certainly augurs well for them that they beat one of their biggest traditional rivals at Old Trafford just before a crucial Champions League clash. The buzz in the stadium will be an obvious plus for United on Tuesday night but apart from that, the Liverpool match provided a glimpse of how Manchester United can adjust without Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman had sustained an injury during warm-up before the match but United thrived without him. Scott McTominay formed a sturdy midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic, who seemed to be more comfortable with the Scottish youngster’s tendency to stay behind and defend while going forward, unlike Pogba. Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford also were far more comfortable in their roles while United caught Liverpool on the counter repeatedly in the early minutes, leading to Rashford scoring twice. McTominay and Matic plugged the gaps and, along with Ashley Young hounding Mohamed Salah, blunted Liverpool’s lethal forward line.
Mourinho also admitted in the weeks since the 0-0 draw in Seville that January signing Alexis Sanchez has failed to hit top gear. The Chilean cut a forlorn figure in Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and was subbed off for Marcus Rashford in the 75th minute. It was no different for him against Liverpool, although he was taken off only in injury time. While it may still be early days, Manchester United would not mind a good performance from Sanchez on Tuesday night.
Sevilla are a different side from Liverpool. They rarely allowed United any meaningful time on the ball during the first leg and created a number of chances. It is no overstatement that, if it wasn’t for David De Gea’s brilliance, United would have been at least a goal down coming into this leg. Sevilla were the better team in the first leg but they failed to take advantage of that superiority and now find themselves coming to Old Trafford needing to score at least one goal.
The Andalusians also have history to deal with – Sevilla have played six times in England and not won even once. The only English opponents they have faced in the Champions League were Leicester City last season, a fixture at the end of which they were on the wrong side of a 3-2 aggregate score. Their form since the first leg is not encouraging. After the goalless Round of 16 draw, Sevilla have lost two of the four matches they have played.
At the same time, it has to be remembered that Sevilla were the team disappointed with the fact that the first leg ended goalless. That performance shows that the difference between the two sides is not too great but recent form, the location of the match and the sheer difference in stature between the two clubs makes Manchester United marginal favourites to win this match. The ball is now in the Mancunian court.