MANCHESTER, England — Three quick thoughts from Man United’s stunning 2-1 home defeat to Sevilla.
1. Sevilla expose Mourinho’s negativity
Jose Mourinho’s “safety first” game-plan was exposed by Sevilla as Wissam Ben Yedder’s late double sent Manchester United crashing out of the Champions League.
The United manager, who named Paul Pogba on the bench for both legs of this round of 16 tie, refused to alter his cautious approach for the second-leg despite needing to score after the goalless first-leg in Spain three weeks ago. His negative tactics were ultimately undone by Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella, whose second-half tactical switch, introducing substitute Ben Yedder for Luis Muriel, prove the decisive moment in the game.
United struggled to get a foothold throughout the 90 minutes, with Sevilla dominating possession and creating the clearer chances. The Old Trafford supporters, unhappy with the failure to take the game to Sevilla, began to chant for greater attacking urgency even before the half-time whistle.
But with Pogba and Juan Mata left on the bench until midway through the second half, United posed little threat to Sevilla and Ben Yedder’s double proved enough to win the game, despite Romelu Lukaku’s late strike.
2. Fellaini embodies United’s current status
Marouane Fellaini has silenced his critics during his five years at Manchester United but when handed his first start since November for a crucial Champions League second-leg tie, it sums up precisely where the team is right now under Mourinho.
Fellaini always does a job but is a limited player, one who will only make a team more negative in its approach. Mourinho’s decision to start the Belgium midfielder was perhaps understandable on the basis that the United manager needed somebody to nullify the threat of Sevilla own towering midfielder, Steven N’Zonzi.
When Mourinho selects Fellaini ahead of the likes of Pogba or Mata, it says everything about the manager’s approach and his reluctance to trust his flair players in a finely-balanced European fixture. With Pogba and Mata, Mourinho only sees risk and defensive shortcomings but Fellaini is his insurance policy at set-pieces and in direct battle against aggressive opponents.
A stronger United team, or bolder manager, would pick Pogba or Mata and take the game to Sevilla, attempting to cut N’Zonzi out by keeping the ball on the pitch and playing around him.
Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona sidelined their attacking players to stifle N’Zonzi when facing Sevilla but Fellaini’s selection was purely a result of the presence of the former Blackburn and Stoke player.
Fellaini would come nowhere close to getting into the best United teams but right now, Mourinho believes he needs him.
3. Ben Yedder does it again vs. English opposition
Man United should not have been caught cold by Sevilla substitute Ben Yedder considering his Champions League exploits against Liverpool this season.
The French forward was named on the bench by coach Montella, who favoured Muriel ahead of the 27-year-old, but Ben Yedder ended the group stage with six goals in six games. The former Toulouse forward’s pace and movement was a problem for Liverpool in the two Group E draws between the teams, scoring three times. And after replacing the ineffective Muriel, he scored two goals with his first two touches at Old Trafford.
At 27, Ben Yedder may be regarded as too old to earn a move to one of Europe’s superpower clubs but he has proved his credentials in this season’s Champions League. He even should have walked off the Old Trafford pitch with the match ball having missed a clear chance to complete his hat-trick in the final seconds.
With only David de Gea to beat, Ben Yedder shot straight at the United goalkeeper but by that stage, he had already inflicted enough damage on United. His goals earned the Spanish club a place in the quarterfinals and ensured that no opponent will under-estimate him in the next round.