We can start with the excuses. Or the distressing details of the performance. Or the reason the result wasn’t worse. We can start anywhere. It doesn’t really matter.
Because wherever we begin, the conclusion will be the same: Manchester United was remarkably ordinary on Wednesday in its first Champions League knockout round game since 2014. And it looks like anything but a contender for the European crown.
To be kind to United, we can start with the score, which was perfectly acceptable and respectable. The Red Devils went to a raucous Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Sevilla and came out with a 0-0 draw. They’ll return to Old Trafford as favorites to progress to the quarterfinals, even without an away goal to their name.
But they’ll be lucky to go any further than that. They were outplayed by Sevilla on Wednesday in a game not so much one-sided as it was nondescript. Sevilla, enterprising but blunt in its own right, outshot United 25-8. The visitors committed committed 22 fouls as the hosts waltzed around them, and managed just one forgettable attempt on target.
United had one real chance of note, a Romelu Lukaku volley that flew well over the bar. Lukaku was otherwise poor. So were Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata. The midfield, as has become commonplace this season, was loose, and the defense, while avoiding egregious mistakes, was a step slow.
Perhaps United was thrown out of whack by Ander Herrera’s hamstring strain 15 minutes in. He and Scott McTominay had both started ahead of a recovering Paul Pogba. Herrera’s injury force Pogba into the fray for the final 75 minutes, and the Frenchman wasn’t quite up to speed.
David De Gea, as he’s so often been this season, was the saving grace. He was peppered with shots from outside the box, many of which didn’t trouble him. He also, however, produced a few heroic saves. Only his lightning-quick reactions kept out Luis Muriel’s header late in the first half.
Muriel embodied Sevilla as a team: active, often rhythmic, but lacking conviction or quality in and around the box. The hosts came close to scoring in countless ways. They had counterattacks stifled at the final pass. They had multiple headers saved by De Gea’s finger tips, and others drift high or wide. They had shots blocked, and half-hearted penalty appeals denied.
Sevilla vs Manchester United Running xG pic.twitter.com/SG5VpjvUzY
— Scott Willis (@oh_that_crab) February 21, 2018
Sevilla will need a bit more cutting edge to overcome United in Manchester in three weeks. But United, for its part, will need a lot more quality to do anything of note in the Champions League. After Wednesday, any thoughts that Jose Mourinho’s side could spark into life in Europe seem as far-fetched as ever.
Wednesday’s other Champions League first leg score
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Roma
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