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Worrying signs for Manchester United in Champions League

Jose Mourinho. (Image via Tsutomu Takasu, Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Pro
23rd February, 2018
6

Manchester United came away from the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium with a scoreless draw against Sevilla, which gives Jose Mourinho’s team a slight advantage heading into the second leg.

However, their performance did not really warrant that stalemate and they have goalkeeper David de Gea’s heroics to thank yet again.

Sevilla were fuelled on by a loud and vibrant home crowd, so to leave proceedings without finding the back of the net through a total of 25 attempts on goal, with eight of those being on target, is a missed opportunity.

Vincenzo Montella was left frustrated that his team could not take anything into the return leg, mentioning Sevilla created enough to score a goal or two.

In saying that, United’s man between the sticks stole the spotlight, producing eight saves, but it was one in particular right at the end of the first half that has the football world talking.

The hosts’ striker, Luis Muriel, peeled off the back of United defender Chris Smalling and found himself free just inside the six-yard box.

But De Gea stook firm, reaching out with a strong right hand to tip the Colombian’s header over the crossbar.

The extraordinary save had the 26-year-old in disbelief and his head up against the Spanish international’s goal post.

It certainly is not the first time the former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper has produced an exquisite save or saved Man United from the jaws of defeat. His performance is the reason the Red Devils hold the upper hand against Los Rojiblancos as he showcased just why he is considered the best goalkeeper in the world.

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Over the course of the game, the English giants failed to cause the Sevilla defence problems, hence why the team had just six shots all game and only one on target.

While Mourinho’s team did come away without conceding, and are still favourites to gain qualification into the quarter-finals, there are some worrying signs.

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A big talking point prior to kick-off was the exclusion of Paul Pogba from the starting XI.

Scott McTominay started only his second Champions League match in the United midfield, but it showed the faith Mourinho has put into the 21-year-old, the Portuguese manager praising the English midfielder’s performance as “fantastic”.

Pogba made an earlier-than-expected appearance off the bench, coming on in the 17th minute for the injured Ander Herrera, but the Frenchman did not have a huge impact.

Smalling looked shaky throughout the encounter, as displayed when his positioning for Muriel’s header was shocking – not what should be expected from an England international.

The fit-again Eric Bailly should be integrated back into the team before the second leg to take the former Fulham man’s place, as United have missed his no-nonsense defending and aggressiveness in the backline.

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United’s struggles in attack were highlighted when Alexis Sanchez was hauled off after 75 minutes. This raises the question as to whether the Chilean and other United players lack a sense of freedom under Mourinho.

Numerous times in the match Sanchez and Juan Mata were seen dropping deep to track the runs of the fullbacks, leaving Romelu Lukaku isolated up front.

A player of Sanchez’s quality thrives off having the freedom to float around in attack and be the sparkling player everyone knows that he is.

Mourinho likes to install defensive responsibilities into his attacking players and over the course of his managerial career, it has seen players shine or struggle to adapt.

The fact is, when you see Sanchez dropping behind the halfway line to pick up the ball or tracking back so deep, you realise this does not get the best out of him. The sooner Mourinho allows his system a little more freedom, he will see an improvement on the one goal his new signing has managed in six starts so far.

Not only would this bring out the best in Sanchez, but also players like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who love to attack in the final third, but are still getting to grips with having defensive duties as well.

Looking ahead to the second leg, in three weeks’ time, United need to be more assertive and should look to call upon the likes of Bailly, Luke Shaw, Pogba and Martial.

Their showing in Spain hinted that the team is not ready to compete for the Champions League trophy, especially given that Manchester City and Bayern Munich have all but ended their ties already, with demolishing 4-0 and 5-0 first leg victories respectively.

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If United consider themselves one of the best in world football – and I’m sure Mourinho feels confidently about that – the team need a more attacking system that will undoubtedly have the backing of 75,000 thousand spectators at Old Trafford.

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