Sevilla 0 Manchester United 0: A stunning performance from the Spaniard helped United escape Sevilla with a very credible draw
If Jose Mourinho’s plan at the start of the night was to leave the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with a useful result and take his star player down a peg in the process it worked, but only just.
Manchester United will take a goalless draw back to Old Trafford in this Champions League last-16 tie after somehow keeping a dominant Sevilla side at bay, thanks mainly to the talents of the world’s best goalkeeper, David de Gea.
This game will mostly remembered for the Spaniard’s superb stops at the end of the first half to deny Steven Nzonzi and Luis Muriel, while the only other real moment of note came with the release of the teamsheets.
In an ego-bruising move ripped from the pages of the Mourinho playbook, Paul Pogba was named among the substitutes after his no-show in the FA Cup on Saturday, with youngster Scott McTominay preferred in midfield.
This particular scheme of Mourinho’s backfired fairly quickly. An injury to Ander Herrera after just 17 minutes meant Pogba would play the majority after all, but even after the Frenchman was restored, United failed to get a handle on the game.
Judging by the scoreline alone, this could be characterised as a classic, keep-it-tight first leg result and Mourinho will be pleased to have left with a clean sheet. Yet the performance, devoid of any threat and at times lacking in control, should provoke some concern.
United’s return to the latter stages of elite European competition after a four-year absence would be begin without arguably their best, certainly their most expensive and absolutely their most marketable player.
Pogba was fit to start, but speaking before kick-off, Mourinho claimed the midfielder had “created some doubts” by withdrawing from Saturday’s win at Huddersfield Town with an illness “by his own decision”. By contrast, his 21-year-old replacement Scott McTominay was “working hard every day”. Message sent.
Yet if the intention was to teach Pogba a lesson, it would be a short-lived one. Mourinho’s decision backfired when, after just over a quarter-of-an-hour, Ander Herrera succumbed to the muscle injury that had ruled him out of United’s previous three games and, among his substitutes, Mourinho had no alternative but to turn to the player he had tried to punish.
The irony was, United needed him. Sevilla had enjoyed the early run of the midfield battle and though the visitors briefly improved after Pogba’s introduction, they ended the half lucky to go in level. United’s only clear-cut opportunity of the opening 45 minutes fell to Romelu Lukaku after a delightful, raking pass by Alexis Sanchez. On the volley, the Belgian blazed over.
Otherwise, the first half was merely a battle between Sevilla’s marauding forwards and David de Gea. Joaquin Correa was frustrated by the United goalkeeper more than once, though his relatively tame efforts after cutting inside from the left were small beer compared to what was to come.
In added-on time at the end of the first half, Gabriel Mercardo’s overhead kick was nodded goalwards by Steven Nzonzi, only for De Gea to palm the effort away one-handed. The denial of Luis Muriel a minute later was more remarkable still as, with the striker heading at point-blank range, De Gea repeated his trick, diverting what seemed a certain goal over his own crossbar. His sign of the cross on the sound of the half-time whistle was apt. This was divine goalkeeping.
If De Gea had asked for a quieter start to the second half in that brief moment of reflection, his prayers were answered, but only because his defenders began to do a better job of blocking Sevilla’s many shots.
United were still decisively second-best after the interval and the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuain knew as much, but began to become frustrated with their team’s failure to make their superiority tell on the scoreboard. De Gea was finally called into action again after the hour-mark, but Clement Lenglet’s tame header into the ground caused little trouble.
It would be United, not Sevilla, who would eventually put the ball in the net and Lukaku momentarily believed he had found a goal that the visitors’ performance had not warranted after converting Pogba’s smart lofted pass. The Belgian had used his left arm to control the ball, however, and referee Clement Turpin had noticed.
Sevilla continued to press for an advantage. Sandro Ramirez, the Everton loanee, was called upon and had one effort blocked in the closing stages. Marcus Rashford, a replacement for the largely ineffective Sanchez, countered quickly and an attempt of his own zipped wide of Sergio Rico’s goal.
Suddenly, with Rashford’s introduction, there seemed to be more spark about United but it would be too little, too late, and no late goal to atone for an uninspiring display.