Manchester United have reached the semi-final stage of the UEFA Europa League this season and will face Spanish side Sevilla at the RheinEnergieSTADION in Cologne on Sunday evening. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be seeking to get the better of Julen Lopetegui’s side, who have done well this season and have beaten both AS Roma and Wolverhampton Wanderers in their last matches in the competition. United will have a tough match on their hands.
United and Sevilla have met twice in European competition, playing in the round of 16 stage of the UEFA Champions League during the 2017/18 season, in which they qualified for the completion by lifting the Europa League at the end of the 2016/17 season, beating Ajax 2-0 in the final. It was a 0-0 draw at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Sevilla followed by a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford, Manchester, which resulted in United exiting from the competition. United will need to do much better.
Both United and Sevilla have good records in the UEFA Europa League with the Spanish club winning the competition five times in the past 15 years, winning back to back titles on the 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons then winning three in a row in the 2013/14, 2014/15, and 2015/16 seasons. Sevilla have made the semi-final stage five times, winning all of them and all five finals. United have reached one semi-final and final, winning both in the 2016/17 season. One of the club will lose their 100% record on Sunday evening in Cologne.
How United have faired against Sevilla and other Spanish opposition in European competition.
United and Sevilla have met twice before, playing in the round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League in the 2017/18 season. On the 21 February 2018, it was a 0-0 draw in Seville with United failing to score an away goal, which was bad news for Jose Mourinho’s side. Three weeks later at Old Trafford, the Spanish side won 2-1 with Wassim Ben Yedder scoring a brace in the 74th and 78th minute with Romelu Lukaku scoring a consolation goal in the 84th minute of the match, exiting the competition.
Sevilla have played many times against English opposition; beating Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this week. They have faced Liverpool, Manchester City, and Leicester City in the past five years and further back have faced Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough and Bolton Wanderers. United have played many teams from Spain including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, and Athletic Club in the past decade with a few more clubs from Spain going back further in time.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League semi-final at the RheinEnergieSTADION in Cologne on Sunday evening…
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
I believe that Sergio Romero should keep his place in the team for the remainder of United’s season, whether their participation in the Europa League ends against Sevilla, or they reach the final of the competition this summer. The Argentinian has done well when he has been called upon this season, with 12 clean sheets and five conceded goals in 17 appearances, which have all been in the cup competitions this season. David De Gea has made 42 appearances, all 38 in the Premier League with the remaining four in the Carabao Cup (two) and the Emirates FA Cup and Europa League (one in each) but he has conceded 42 goals, keeping 15 clean sheets. In Romero we trust – he has done this before and could do it again.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Brandon Williams
United’s defence will need to be on top of their game against Sevilla. Eric Bailly started against Copenhagen with Victor Lindelof coming on later in the match. The Swede should be starting, partnering Harry Maguire in the semi-final of the Europa League with both Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams in the fullback positions, giving United extra width on the attack. Wan-Bissaka has his defensive position nailed on this season and has, along with the addition of Maguire, helped to solve a problem. Going forward though, the English defender will need to provide more going forward. He has four assists, all in the Premier League this season and should be looking to add to that either during the remainder of this season and definitely next season.
Midfield: Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic
Against FC Copenhagen, Solskjaer started Fred and Paul Pogba together in the centre of midfield. Personally, I do not think it was the best partnership and later in the match, Nemanja Matic was brought on to do the job that he needed to do. This season, the duo of Matic and Pogba is the best option that United have right now. Against Sevilla, it will be important that United have more control of the midfield and I feel that playing Fred from the start will not do that – which is nothing against the Brazilian but he’s a squad player – nothing more right now. Late in the match, Fred might work but from the start, Pogba and Matic would be the best partnership based on what they have done in the latter stages of the season. Pogba needs to stand up as another leader in the pack, with a trophy close to United’s grasp.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
In the three positions behind the striker, United have been dangerous over the course of the season. Mason Greenwood has scored 17 goals, assisting five more, Bruno Fernandes has scored 12 goals and eight assists with Marcus Rashford on 22 goals and 10 assists. This season, Fernandes has played 49 matches, scored 26 goals and 22 assists (for both Sporting and United), meaning that he has been involved in 48 goals in 49 matches, which is not a bad statistic. At this moment in time though, Rashford is the weakest link in this trio as he has not scored in his last three matches, scoring and assisting against Crystal Palace close to the end of the domestic season. Rashford will know what he has to do.
Striker: Anthony Martial
Anthony Martial has scored 23 goals and 12 assists this season, which is his best season at United in the five years that he has played for the club. It is fair to say that the Frenchman is in form at this stage of the season but that he could be more ruthless in front of goal. Obviously, things come in stages and his improvement this season has been easy to see and he could continue that next season, bringing in his ruthless streak which could make him one of the best attacking players in the league. Martial will be seeking to score more goals this season, impressing his manager and his teammates, and of course the clubs supporters.
Substitutes: David De Gea; Eric Bailly, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Teden Mengi; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Fred, Daniel James, James Garner, Scott McTominay; Odion Ighalo
With five substitutes allowed for the remainder of this competition, Solskjaer will have plenty of options should he need them against Sevilla. I expect David De Gea to remain on the bench once again. In defence, Eric Bailly, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Teden Mengi could be called upon should they be needed. In midfield, where Solskjaer has a lot of depth, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Fred, Daniel James, James Garner and Scott McTominay should be available. In attack, with Tahith Chong’s loan spell seemingly getting closer, Odion Ighalo might be the only attacking player available.
Written by John Walker