Champions League: Manchester United could join ranks of European elite with victory over Sevilla

Following their impressive 2-1 win over Liverpool in the Premier League on the weekend, Manchester United would be approaching their tie against Sevilla with a positive bent of mind, focused on winning and progressing to the next stage. They eked out a 0-0 draw in Seville three weeks ago, relying on a stout defence and David de Gea's brilliance in goal to keep out their Spanish opponents.

Going into the second leg, however, the Red Devils will be looking to attack and approach the game in the same way they have played in recent matches against Chelsea and Liverpool. The emphasis will be on keeping it tight at the back while they attack in numbers when the opportunity presents itself to try and get the breakthrough.

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly during a training session. AFP

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly during a training session. AFP

Jose Mourinho's men come into this fixture on the back of their best run of form this season after winning four out of their last five matches, the only blemish being their draw against Sevilla. The return of Eric Bailly in defence has been great, despite his own goal against Liverpool. In midfield, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay have given the team a solid base to build on. The Portuguese tactician would be hoping that Paul Pogba is able to shake off his injury and get himself ready for the second leg as his presence would add a great physical, attacking threat.

With Anthony Martial available for this match, the manager has a good dilemma on his hands, as he chooses the players to complement his system, and play alongside Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, who will most definitely start the match. Rashford gave the manager food for thought with his pace and penetration against Liverpool on the weekend, scoring both the goals for United.

Vincenzo Montella's Sevilla are not in the best of form heading to Manchester, having won two and lost two of their last four matches, including a 5-2 loss to Atletico Madrid and a 2-0 loss to Valencia, indicating their inability to win big matches this season. Though the team's attack and midfield has no injury issues, it is their defence that has been below-par this season.

The Sevilla backline have conceded 42 goals in the La Liga, good for them to be the seventh worst defence in the league. To make matters worse, when thing go badly for them, they really do, which can be seen from the fact that they have conceded five goals in a match four times this season. With regular right-backs Jesus Navas and Sebastian Corchia both out injured, and Miguel Layun also absent due to injury, there will be some reshuffling that Montella has to do to get his defence ready.

The danger men for the away side will be midfielder Ever Banega and strikers Wissim Ben Yidder and Luis Muriel. With their pace and power, the latter two would test the home defence, irrespective of which one of them is selected to start. McTominay would most likely be given the role of man-marking Banega, shadowing him and not giving him the space and time needed to play his defence-splitting passes.

Playing Manchester United at Old Trafford has been an extremely daunting prospect for most teams this season, with Mourinho’s men losing only to Manchester City out of the 20 matches. The Red Devils have scored 46 goals and conceded only 10, and have used their home form to rise to second in the league and propel their season. Given their record at home, their fans would be expecting a solid home win and progress to the quarter-finals.

This is the first knockout game at home in the Champions League for United in four years, their last such encounter coming against Bayern Munich in the 2013/14 season. Mourinho has taken the team back to where they belong in terms of competing in Europe's top competition. The next step for him and his players is to go beyond the first knockout round, to put themselves amongst the European elite again.

Defeating Sevilla and moving to the quarter-finals would accomplish that and can then allow the team and the fans to start thinking about trying to win the competition, something that would really have been unexpected at the start of the season.

Published Date: Mar 13, 2018 15:52 PM | Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 18:53 PM

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