Sevilla vs Manchester United – Wednesday, February 21, 19:45 GMT/20:45 CET – Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Sevilla – Spain
Sevilla welcome English opposition once more to Andalusia this season, after a pulsating comeback from 3-0 down at half-time against Liverpool resulted in a valuable point in the group stages. Then-manager Eduardo Berizzo had revealed to his players the weekend before that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, and although the dominant performance was flooded with emotion, a few weeks later Berizzo was sacked after some poor results.
The dreadful run of form continued under Vincenzo Montella, however, as they went on to record just two wins in eight games in the space of just over a month, including conceding five goals on two separate occasions. Although they still occupy Europa League qualification places, the have the unlikely breath of Eibar pouring down their neck so can scarcely afford to lose focus in LaLiga, and fortunately, they have turned around their sluggish progress to a degree with just one defeat in their last nine in all competitions.
Joint second-top goalscorer Wissam Ben Yedder bagged two that night against Manchester United’s bitter rivals, and the Frenchman will be an obvious danger to José Mourinho’s men. The significant contingent with experience in England of Roque Mesa, Jesús Navas, Nolito, Steven N’Zonzi, Daniel Cariço, Sandro Ramírez and Miguel Layún will also provide some familiar faces, but given their largely unsuccessful spells in the Premier League – and subsequent revivals in Spain – may require greater attention.
Paul Pogba has been central to the headlines once again, although primarily without it being his fault. Paper talk has attempted to stir up a supposed feud between the Frenchman and his manager, which Mourinho rubbished, but his participation in this first leg is in question after he was withdrawn from the starting lineup for the weekend FA Cup win over Huddersfield due to illness. His role on the left of a midfield three had even been outlined by his boss, although it remains to be seen if he will be as adventurous for a much sterner test.
One much less heralded name might be found on the team sheet is young Scottish-born Scott McTominay. The youth team product has found some significant game time in all competitions this season as a stand-in midfielder; if his illustrious teammate is not able to recover in time, McTominay’s selfless running and sensible passing may be utilised to soak up as much pressure as possible.
United’s recent league form has been a little uncertain. The last two away matches have been lost, while they have only won four out of the last nine. The league title was a foregone conclusion some time ago thanks to city rivals Manchester City and their blistering form, so there is every chance Mourinho will cast half an eye on other avenues to add to his collection of silverware.
Sevilla vs Manchester United – Players to Watch
Steven N’Zonzi #15 – Sevilla
English fans will remember a lanky but fairly innocuous midfielder at Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City, but the influential French international has transformed his game since moving to Spain as a dynamic dynamo at the base of Sevilla’s midfield. Standing almost two metres tall, his physicality is an obvious advantage, but where his game has improved dramatically is his range of passing to complement his defensive duties. He certainly has the quality to strike from a distance, but if he cannot be circumvented, then United’s counterattacking may fall flat and force a retreat into a defensive mindset.
Alexis Sánchez #7 – Manchester United
The Chilean arrived under significant expectation following his swap deal involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Arsenal, and it is fairly clear to see why. His dogged street-fighting tenacity allied with his prodigious ball skill and eye for goal make him an almost impossible forward to keep track off. His value cannot be quantified by basic goals and assist statistics; to gouge out an invaluable lead in the first leg, especially without the talismanic Pogba, Sánchez holds the key.
Sevilla vs Manchester United – Match Stats
- Although three-time winners of the Europa League in the last decade, Sevilla have never made it past this stage of the Champions League
- Sevilla have only lost one of their last nine European home fixtures
- Their only home loss to English opposition came against United’s local rivals Manchester City
- Manchester United have won all but one of their previous seven last-16 ties in the competition, but have won just two of their last nine matches at this stage away from home.
- United have lost just once in their last 18 European matches overall, having won the Europa League last season
- They have only ever won three times away from home against Spanish opposition
Sevilla vs Manchester United – Possible Lineups
Rico – Navas, Lenglet, Kjær, Escudero – N’Zonzi, Pizarro – Nolito, Sarabia, Ramírez – Ben Yedder
Manager: Vincenzo Montella
De Gea – Young, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw – McTominay, Matić, Carrick – Mata, Lukaku, Sánchez
Manager: José Mourinho
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.