If there was any doubt before, David de Gea's brilliance in goal just reiterated what everyone knew to be true. The Spaniard is Manchester United's only world-class player and was the only obstacle between an away draw and certain defeat.
His ability to pull off unbelievable saves consistently and nonchalantly make him the best goalkeeper in the world and United are thankful for his sustained levels of excellence. Still only 27, De Gea has yet to reach his peak, making him an even scarier prospect for strikers around the world.
Sevilla created the two best chances of the match in the final minute of the first half at a raucous Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The first one was Steven N'Zonzi's header, which tested the United goalkeeper's reflexes. The next one fell to Luis Muriel after he was picked out by Jesus Navas. With no pressure on him, the Colombian striker powered his header towards goal and it seemed like a certain goal, before De Gea's intervention, as he pulled off a top draw save, diverting the ball over the frame of the goal.
And yet, after the match, the Red Devils' goalkeeper didn't get all the attention that his performance deserved. He wasn't the talk of the town, but he should have been, as his excellence helped a dour, uninspired United secure a goalless draw in Seville.
The headlines were dominated again by the strange power struggle between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba, with the manager choosing not to start Pogba. When asked about his decision, he mentioned that the midfielder wasn't a hundred percent fit, and that the choice to not play against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup was made by the player himself. This despite his own statement a day ago that the Frenchman was fit and ready because he was involved in the training session.
Instead, the Portuguese tactician chose to go with a midfield triumvirate of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay, as his desire to shackle Ever Banega's creativity formed his strategy for the first leg in Spain.
The tactics gave United the result their manager planned for, but their defensive performance was shaky and lacked confidence. Although the home side had 20 attempts, their best chances were the ones that drew great saves from De Gea, as the rest of their chances were more academic than anything significant. However, the ease with which they got in behind the full-backs and challenged the centre-backs would be a concern for Mourinho.
McTominay performed his role admirably, pressing the opposition when possible, while remaining strong in the tackle. He also impressed in possession when given space, and had the away side's only attempt on target in the first half. Credit should be given to the Manchester United manager for his faith in the 21-year-old youngster, as his sustained run in the team in the last couple of weeks gave him the confidence to perform his role to perfection against Sevilla.
Despite not starting, Pogba played most of the match after Ander Herrera suffered a hamstring injury around the 17-minute mark. Safe in possession barring a couple of mistakes, the flamboyant Frenchman performed the role Herrera was assigned well, tracking back regularly to help shackle the duo of Banega and N'Zonzi. He also worked hard to fashion attacking opportunities but lacked inspiration on a night that no one in the United side distinguished themselves on the attacking front.
Alexis Sanchez remains a work in progress, as the Chilean failed to make a mark on the opponents, despite his tireless running. Romelu Lukaku was good in patches as the lone striker, bullying the Sevilla central defenders to keep attacks alive. He did put the ball in the goal in the second half but the effort was ruled out because he had handled the ball. However, his touches and hold-up play left a lot to be desired.
On a night when they had 48% of possession, Manchester United failed to impose themselves on the tie and failed to create space till the final 10 minutes, after the introductions of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The former had a couple of sights on goal but put his efforts wide on both occasions. The first was a snapshot from inside the box after being teed up by Pogba, while the second was a free-kick that looked dangerous before curving wide.
The Red Devils go into the second leg at Old Trafford with the chance to secure passage to the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2013/14 season. Despite the fans' begrudging approval for the 0-0 draw in Seville, Mourinho is confident about the home match and has promised a completely different match to the first leg.
0-0 draws in the Champions League knockout stage are dangerous as it gives both teams an equal chance to progress, especially with away goals becoming that much more crucial. Manchester United and Sevilla played out the only goalless draw across all eight matches in the first leg, and yet there was no element of surprise. Till he can get his creative players Pogba and Sanchez playing in synergy, Mourinho will rely on his tried and tested methods to take the club as far as they can go. His confidence and stubborn insistence on his defensive methods have ensured that the tie hangs tantalisingly in the balance.
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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 11:29:14 IST