Manchester United will return to UEFA Europe League action at Old Trafford on Thursday evening as they welcome Sevilla for the quarter final first leg. This is the fourth time this season that United have met Spanish opposition in the Europa League. Real Sociedad were placed in United’s group with United losing the first match 1-0 but winning the second 1-0. Barcelona were the next Spanish club, drawing 2-2 in the first leg of the play off, winning the second leg 2-1.
United were then drawn against Real Betis, beating them 4-1 in the first leg and 1-0 in the second. United have met Sevilla three times before and have never beaten them in a competitive match. Back in 2017/18 season United met them in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 – drawing 0-0 in the first leg, losing 2-1 in the second. Back in 2020, United met them in the Europa League semi final, losing 2-1 and exiting the competition at that stage.
United have returned to winning ways following their 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United in the Premier League the weekend before last, beating Brentford 1-0 and Everton 2-0 in the last two matches before seeking to beat Sevilla for the first time. Sevilla are six-time winners of the Europa League but their LaLiga form has been terrible this season. However, that will need to be discounted in the Europa League as they have achieved what United have so far. Erik ten Hag will want to win this.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martínez, Malacia;
Antony, Fernandes, Sancho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea is almost certainly likely to start the remaining matches for United this season. Tom Heaton is still out of action with an ankle injury and Jack Butland has not yet played a minute of football for United’s first team. He may be given a chance in the Premier League should United reach their objective of confirming a top four finish before the end of the season, so therefore could start towards the end of the season – before that it is unlikely to happen.
De Gea has kept two clean sheets in United’s last two matches, after losing 2-0 to Newcastle United almost a fortnight ago. United will be back to Premier League action on Sunday but will need to set their minds on reaching the semi final of the UEFA Europa League against Sevilla. De Gea will know the opposition so well facing them three times in the last five years. United could achieve something great this season if they can win the Europa League to add to their Carabao Cup win.
United know what they have with De Gea but there are times when his presence a lot is not enough and the defence will need to work much harder. That said, United do have strength in depth now, despite a new flurry of injuries – the return of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Anthony Martial will strengthen United so much that attack might be the best form of defence heading into the next few matches. Ten Hag will demand results though as United look to start a new era.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia
United’s defence has been hit by a blow with Luke Shaw out of action for the foreseeable future because of injury. It does not seem to be a long-term injury but it is a blow nonetheless. Against Sevilla, United will need to be at the top of their game to get the better of the Spanish opposition – which will be the first time they have done so – providing they do beat the Andalusian side. Tyrell Malacia will likely start at left-back although Diogo Dalot could step in.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka should start in the right-back role as I feel he’s the player that seems stronger, especially in defence and plays well with Antony, providing he’s on the right-wing for United. The duo have worked well in the past and continue to have a good interaction when they play together. United have some great ability in the fullback ranks this season, which is a good thing as their strength in depth has not always been available. United’s defence is improving massively.
In the centre of the defence, United have more strength and balance. Ten Hag seems to prefer Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez playing together although there is rotation at times, which needs to happen throughout the season. Against Sevilla, I think this duo will start as Varane was rested at the weekend, keeping him fresh for the Europa League on Thursday evening. Martinez is a mainstay in the defence this season and gives him all making this the best defence for years.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
United’s midfield has been too barebones for the past four matches because of the suspension of Casemiro, who is now back in action. Christian Eriksen’s injury also put United into a tough place but he made his return last week and could be reunited with his midfield partner against Sevilla. United are still without Donny van de Beek, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to knee surgery. Scott McTominay will miss this match with minor injury.
That said, United still have strength in depth despite the new injuries. I would expect to see Casemiro start after missing the last four matches, last playing for United prior to the international break. United won three of the four matches played without him, losing to Newcastle. Eriksen could be fit enough to start – failing that, Marcel Sabitzer could be partnered with the Brazilian against the Spanish side. United do have some strong players in the midfield ranks this season.
Eriksen and Casemiro has achieved so much this season. The Dane has two goals and nine assist with the Brazilian getting five goals and six assists – a total goal contribution of 22 – which is great for a midfield duo. It is the next best area for goal then the three playing behind the striker. It is a great time for both Casemiro and Eriksen to be back with United having a busy end to April and a busier May before the season is over. There is a lot to win for United this season too.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Sancho
Marcus Rashford has been ruled out of the Sevilla match and he may mis others. That said, United have other options but the attacking ranks are not as strong as perhaps they once were. Alejandro Garnacho is also out injured which gives Ten Hag few options to restructure the attack. Antony has been in fine form with seven goals and one assist this season – and he will be seeking more before the season ends. He has been the most creative player recently, which is a good thing.
Bruno Fernandes has ten goals and ten assists to his name this season and he will be seeking to add to that before the final match of the season has been played. All going well, United could end a busy April and head into May which could see them fight for a top four finish in the Premier League and challenge for both the Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League. Fernandes has not excelled all the time this season, seeing a lot of frustration but he’s a great player to have at United.
With Rashford out of this match, Jadon Sancho seems to be the likely candidate to start on the left-wing, his favoured position in the attack three at United. He has not hit the dizzy heights one would hope for a player of his caliber but in the last few matches, there has been a spark – which is a good sign. He has five goals and two assists so far this season, which could be greatly increased with more playing time and him doing the right things on the pitch. He could find his form.
Anthony Martial started his return from injury in the last week and despite being fit enough to start against Everton, he was on the bench, coming on later in the match and scoring the second goal of the game. The Frenchman has seven goals and two assists so far this season and could start to reach that form which he has in pre-season and during parts of the season where he was not injured. It could be the end of the road for him at United this summer though.
Martial is a talented forward and perhaps seemed better in his early days at United playing on the wing. However, a season as the striker saw him excel but injury, poor form and frustration has stagnated his development and United have a few times wondered what could have been for him and the club. A failed loan spell at Sevilla last season saw him return to United under a new manager, thriving in pre-season but injury once again hit him hard. It’s a shame really.
The Frenchman is a better options up from that Wout Weghorst, who has just two goals and three assists to his name this season, playing nine minutes against Everton and being an unused substitute against Brentford last week. The Dutchman still has something to offer from the bench for the remainder of the season but ten goals seems to be a big stride for him at United with him missing more chances than scoring them during his run of 19 starts before being benched.
Substitutes: Butland; Lindelof, Maguire, Dalot; Sabitzer, Fred, Iqbal, Mainoo; Weghorst, Pellistri, Elanga
Ten Hag cane name up to twelve players on the bench in the UEFA Europa League, using five of them throughout the match. With De Gea starting and Tom Heaton still injured, Jack Butland looks set to be the goalkeeper on the bench. It is possible that he could be joined with another goalkeeper, but United have more strength in depth across the squad despite the current injuries at the club. United will need to have a plan to take on Sevilla and there will be key players here.
In defence, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot will be available with Luke Shaw out of action for the foreseeable future. The trio will be options from the bench later in the match with United either trying to strengthen the defence or protect any lead – which has been the case over the last few months. In the midfield, Marcel Sabitzer, Fred, Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo could all be included with United having more midfielders to choose from ahead of this match.
In attack, United are a bit light with the injuries to Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho but they still have many options with Wout Weghorst, Facundo Pellistri and Anthony Elanga – not that the final option is one to guarantee goals but he can come on and use his pace to tire the Sevilla defence later in the match with United seeking to maintain any lead they may have. Ten Hag would probably like to see fewer injured players but in the coming weeks, the will have just that.
Written by John Walker