Manchester United’s pursuit of a first Europa League title since 2016/17 continues on Thursday as they welcome serial winners Sevilla to Old Trafford in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
Erik ten Hag’s men have quickly recovered from a 2-0 loss at Newcastle United earlier in April, stringing together back-to-back home wins ‘to nil’ to consolidate their Premier League top-four bid.
United eased past relegation-threatened Everton 2-0 at the weekend, as Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial scored on either side of half-time to keep their side three points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Back to Europe’s second-tier competition, where they’ve already gone past two Spanish clubs in the knockout stage this season, the Red Devils face a downtrodden Sevilla side as odds-on favourites.
As the record six-time Europa League winners, Los Rojiblancos deserve the benefit of the doubt despite experiencing their worst La Liga campaign in the 21st century.
New manager Jose Luis Mendilibar marked his touchline debut with an all-important 2-0 win at fellow relegation rivals Cadiz but oversaw a goal-glutted 2-2 home draw against Celta Vigo last weekend.
While there’s a feeling the Andalusian heavyweights are ‘too big to fail,’ a five-point gap separating them from 18th-placed Valencia means they cannot take anything for granted.
In these uncertain times for one of the most prominent Spanish clubs, overcoming a team of Man Utd’s stature could be a perfect confidence boost ahead of their ominously-looking relegation scrap in La Liga.
However, that’s easier said than done.
Since a 1-0 home loss to Sevilla’s domestic adversaries Real Sociedad on day one, the Red Devils have taken the Europa League by storm, racking up eight victories in their next nine continental fixtures.
After avenging that defeat with a mirroring success in San Sebastian to secure a runner-up spot in Group E, Man United have dispatched non-other than Barcelona in the knockout play-off round.
Marcus Rashford ran the show as Ten Hag’s team pulled off a 2-1 home win following an action-packed 1-1 draw at Spotify Camp Nou to set up an exciting last-16 tie against Real Betis.
Sevilla’s cross-city rivals proved no match for United’s star-studded squad, with the Premier League giants winning both legs by an aggregate score of 5-1, including a thumping 4-1 first-leg triumph at home.
That should set Man United up nicely for this potentially historic event as they seek their first-ever win over Sevilla in a major Europen competition after losing twice in their three previous encounters (D1).
Old Trafford is the ideal catalyst to make up for any psychological shortcomings, with United clocking a jaw-dropping win ratio of 87% win ratio in their 15 competitive home outings in 2023 (W13, D2).
Except for the abovementioned victory over perennial La Liga relegation candidates Cadiz, Sevilla have gone winless in three of their last four matches in all competitions (D1, L2).
That run includes a 1-0 defeat at Fenerbahce in the return leg of their Europa League last-16 tie that eventually saw Los Rojiblancos progress as 2-1 aggregate winners, courtesy of a 2-0 first-leg win at home.
However, the Spaniard’s underwhelming showing in Istanbul deepened their continental crisis, as they’ve now failed to win any of their last 13 European fixtures on foreign soil (D5, L6).
They have suffered defeats on their last three continental travels and could make it four losses in a row for the first time in over seven years, perhaps best illustrating their ongoing issues.
Back to that win over Cadiz, it was Sevilla’s first competitive triumph outside the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan since a 1-0 Copa del Rey win at second-tier Deportivo Alaves in January.
In the meantime, they have lost five and drawn two of their seven competitive away games, scoring an embarrassing average of 0.42 goals per match in that period.
Player to Watch: Marcus Rashford
Rashford failed to become the first Man Utd player since Wayne Rooney in 2009/10 to score 20+ competitive goals at Old Trafford in a single season against Everton last time out.
But he’ll have another chance on Thursday, and given Sevilla’s defensive sloppiness and well-documented travel sickness, everything looks set for the 25-year-old to hit that milestone.
Player to Watch: Youssef En-Nesyri
One of Morocco’s World Cup heroes, Youssef En-Nesyri, has taken his scoring boots out of the closet since Mendilibar’s appointment, netting in both Sevilla’s league matches under the new manager.
The 25-year-old striker also has one Europa League knockout goal under his belt this season, scoring in a 3-0 demolition of PSV Eindhoven in the first leg of their knockout play-off round.
After hobbling off the pitch during the Everton game with a groin injury, Rashford is at risk of missing out on this clash, but there’s hope in the home camp that he’ll recover in time.
On a more positive note, Man United welcomed Christian Eriksen back from a long-term injury against Everton, plus Casemiro’s domestic suspension doesn’t apply for European fixtures.
Luke Shaw is another high-profile doubt after picking up a minor physical problem against Brentford, while Raphael Varane should regain his place in the starting line-up.
United loanee Alex Telles is eligible to play against his parent club. But he’ll likely start on the bench as Argentine Marcus Acuna remains Sevilla’s first choice at the left-back.
Los Rojiblancos will be without Mexican winger Jesus Corona and Spanish midfielder Joan Jordan due to muscle and Achilles injuries, respectively.
The rest of Mendilibar’s squad should be fit and ready to take this trip.
Manchester United potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): David de Gea, Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia; Christian Eriksen, Casemiro; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Anthony Martial.
Sevilla potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Marko Dmitrovic; Gonzalo Montiel, Loic Bade, Tanguy Nianzou, Marcos Acuna; Fernando, Pape Gueye; Suso, Eric Lamela, Bryan Gi; Youssef En-Nesyri.
We Say: Manchester United 3-1 Sevilla
Despite Sevilla’s mini-revival under Mendilibar, we envisage Man United coasting to a landslide victory.
The Red Devils have been too hot to handle at Old Trafford in 2023, and we expect them to stay on that trajectory.
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