Manchester United 2 Sevilla 2
Three trophies in a season? It is being discussed in the blue half of Manchester – the ultimate treble – and the United support had to be thinking of their own version of one as they led Sevilla by two goals to advertise a step into the semi-finals of the Europa League. The Carabao Cup is already in the cabinet while an FA Cup semi-final looms against Brighton on Sunday week.
And yet a night that contained such promise, which featured a two-goal salvo from Marcel Sabitzer – the biggest return so far on his January loan from Bayern Munich – and fine displays by Antony and the returning Antony Martial carried quite the sting.
Tyrell Malacia had suffered a few jittery moments and, on 84 minutes, moments after blowing a good chance at the other end, he erred badly, misreading a bouncing ball to allow the substitute, Jesus Navas, to cross. The ball flicked off Malacia and flashed past David de Gea.
United had lost Raphaël Varane to injury. Now Lisandro Martínez was also stricken and there was even worse to come. After De Gea had made a fine save to deny Youssef En-Nesyri, the Sevilla substitute rose to send a header goalwards. This time the ball hit another substitute, Harry Maguire, to fly past De Gea. Two own goals, the script unceremoniously torn up.
Sevilla had stabilised across their past two La Liga games under José Luis Mendilibar but there was no escaping the fact that the 62-year-old is the club’s third manager of a deeply underwhelming season. The fourth-placed finish of the previous campaign that yielded Champions League football has come to feel like a distant memory, overtaken by relegation fears. Sevilla sit 13th – five points above third-from-bottom Valencia.
Ten Hag had to feel the knock of opportunity as the Stones Roses blared pre-kick-off but he knew that it would mean nothing without laser-like focus. Good is not good enough, as he likes to say. He craved another push from a starting XI that might have missed the injured Marcus Rashford but was boosted by the returns of Casemiro and Martial.
United brought the intensity at the outset, Antony bristling with intent on the right, showing off his fancy footwork, too. But it was a move from Martial on the other flank that laid the groundwork for the breakthrough – a quick switch of feet followed by an impudent flick inside for Jadon Sancho.
Martial was in the mood to make up for lost time. Casemiro moved it to Bruno Fernandes and his through-ball was a peach, releasing Sabitzer, whose finish was aided by a slight deflection off Marcao.
United had gone close early on, Sancho running on to an Antony pass to finish only to be pulled back for offside; Antony shimmying, playing a give-and-go and extending Bono. Now they turned the screw, Martial even more prominent on the second.
He read a bouncing ball out of the United defence and was off, moving smoothly over halfway, bearing left before cutting back, inside one then another, waiting for the run of Sabitzer. The weight on the pass was perfect and again Sabitzer felt nothing but ice in his veins when confronted by Bono.
United might have had more before the interval. When Fernandes flicked towards a hat-trick hunting Sabitzer, who looked offside, it came off a Sevilla body and Bono had to react smartly. Casemiro also had a shot blocked after a Martial cutback. United still needed De Gea to make an excellent save to keep out a stoppage-time header from Tanguy Nianzou. The ball looped high and Raphaël Varane completed the clearance with a back header from under his crossbar.
Erik Lamela, preferred up front to Youssef En-Nesyri, left a boot in on Casemiro to receive a yellow card – the VAR said no to red – and United raged when Fernandes was booked for handball on 41 minutes, ruling him out of the second leg. The captain’s arm was hardly in an unnatural position when he threw himself into a block.
Varane did not reappear for the second half – he was struggling before he made his goal-line intervention – and it meant an opportunity for Maguire, who began with a glorious feint to deceive Nemanja Gudelj. The Sevilla midfielder looked to the heavens, the home crowd roared.
Mendilibar, for whom this was a first ever European game, introduced Navas on the right, asking Lucas Ocampos to swap flanks, and he had to have demanded more from his team. Apart from a few flickers from Ocampos, they offered little.
Martial’s link-up play was excellent and his last involvement before his withdrawal just after the hour was to get United moving on the counter through Antony. Everyone knew what the Brazilian would do – cut inside and curl for the far, top corner. He was unlucky, the shot hitting the woodwork.
Lamela’s was not the only dark orange card. When Gudelj attempted a scissors kick dangerously close to Casemiro, he connected with the United player’s head. Tempers simmered at various points. – Guardian