Football Features

“Cool as Ever” – Five things learned as Sevilla shine and send sloppy Man Utd home in Europa League semi-final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:20, 16 August 2020

In a thrilling night of football, Sevilla came from behind to beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Europa League semi-final.

The win puts Sevilla into Friday’s final, their first since the last of their three straight wins in 2016. What did we learn?

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1. Bono in the name of love

For the second game in a row, the goalkeeper facing Manchester United went into a frenzy against them. This time it was Yassine Bounou, Sevilla’s back-up keeper who only came in when Tomas Vaclik was ruled out through injury.

Bounou beaten by an early penalty, but after that the Moroccan was absolutely incredible (even on the penalty he wasn’t fooled by Fernandes’ technique and guessed the right way). He flung himself all across his goal every time United shot and no matter where the Red Devils put the ball, no matter the technique they tried to score with, Bono was equal to it.

His 1v1 stops from Martial from literal point-blank range were the sweetest thing. Sevilla’s defence was carved open multiple times over a five minute spell at the start of the second-half but Bono’s mysterious ways made sure that Man Utd still couldn’t find what they were looking for and made it a beautiful day for Sevilla as they head to the Europa League final.

2. Bruno Penandes

22.

Manchester United have been awarded 22 penalties this season. 22! The most in the Premier League (14) and Europa League (5). They win them through having their fast forwards run at pace into the box. But whilst they used to miss as many as they scored, now they’re lethal from the spot thanks to Bruno Fernandes.

The Portuguese midfielder hasn’t just lifted up the whole club since his arrival with his smart attacking play, he’s also transformed their penalty form. In the last round he nixed “the hop” to smash one in, but today the hop was back but the ball rocketed into the top corner. That he was able to generate that much height and power when coming down from a hop says so much about his skill from the spot.

Besides the penalty Fernandes was fabulous too, creating chances and smashing shots at goal. The transformation he has led at Manchester United has been nothing short of incredible.

3. Cool as Ever

Ever Banega’s Last Ride continues apace! As much as Paul Pogba was great, and Bruno Fernandes was great, and even Fred and Joan Jordan were great, Ever Banega was a special kind of fantastic against Manchester United. The 32-year-old Argentine is playing his last games for Sevilla and is determined to go out in style.

Passing, pressing, dribbling, Banega did the lot. Most touches (109), most duels (27), most fouls won (5), most passes (80), most successful passes (75), most passes inside the opponent’s half (48) and most chances created for Sevilla (2). Yet again Banega ran roughshod over a Premier League midfield and made it look oh so easy. It wasn’t even like United were bad, he was just that good.

That the last action of the game was Ever Banega dribbling away from Bruno Fernandes and drawing a foul in the process summed it all up. Irrepressible, fantastic, cool as Ever.

4. Phenomenal Pogba

Paul Pogba’s position and role has been the subject of so much discussion and discourse since he joined Manchester United when the obvious answer has always been what he needs to play well is other good players around him. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have finally realised this, starting Fred next to the Frenchman for the second game in a row.

And Pogba has responded by putting in a phenomenal performance that ran the gamut of his vastly varied skill-set. Facing off against the magnificent Ever Banega, Pogba never looked cowed and was constantly getting involved in regaining possession, but also advancing it with such flair. The Frenchman was sublime, dribbling in and out of space and always releasing the ball quickly.

It would be unfair to solely credit Fred for this turnaround, but it cannot be ignored how important it was for Pogba to have a mobile player next to him. Someone who could get about and press whilst he hung back and picked his moment to intervene. When Nemanja Matic plays, Pogba has to be active or there’s no movement, moreover the Serb is an achingly slow passer of the ball. Fred plays the game at 100 miles per hour, and that allows Pogba to take his sweet time which is exactly what he needs to be at his best.

Obviously United can do better than Fred, but the Brazilian’s selection shows that Solskjaer has figured out what he needs to get the most out of the phenomenal Paul Pogba.

5. Solskjaer freezes as Lopetegui eases into the final

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his tactics right. The XI he picked to face Sevilla was perfectly chosen and played the game superbly against the five-time Europa League winners. The game was a pitched battle between two supreme sides, with neither giving an inch for the entire duration of the match… until Manchester United started to tire.

The Red Devils hit the second-half like Tyson in his prime, but when their initial flurry of attacks were impossibly rebuffed by Bounou in the Sevilla goal, they seemed to run out of steam. The intensity they had put into the first-half had them begging for some changes to be made.

And yet, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sat still.

Julen Lopetegui made two substitutions with 55 minutes gone, and a third 20 minutes later. He made sure his side was refreshed with players. Not players that are as good as his starters, but players with air in their lungs and no lactic acid in their legs.

Yes, Manchester United’s squad is poor outside of their first XI, but his first XI was quite clearly playing on fumes for that last half-hour. Fernandes, Rashford, Martial, Greenwood… they have been playing constantly since football’s return and looked in dire need of some rest.

That Solskjaer waited until the 86th minute to make a change, nearly 10 minutes after United had conceded, was criminal. The players he brought on could have energised the side much earlier and perhaps avoided the situation that Sevilla scored from

Victor Lindelof would still have made that mistake, because that’s just what he does, but it’s unlikely an energetic Timothy Fosu-Mensah would have allowed the cross in, as the exhausted Brandon Williams did.

As much as United desperately need new players this summer, a winger, a centre-back, a left-back and even a defensive midfielder… they also need their manager to be proactive and make timely substitutions that will effect the flow of games in their favour.

“This group of players will have to get consistency in their play” he said post-match. But tonight was as much about his flaws as his players.

Solskjaer’s had a full season in charge now, and whilst he’s clearly improved the club and got them going in the right direction he has routinely been exposed as a limited coach who doesn’t know how to influence the tide of games he is expected to win. Parking the bus and breaking into the half-space against elite sides is one thing, but United need to be able to engage good teams as the protagonist and have the ability to make changes as and when they are needed, not 10 minutes too late.

And until he can do that, United are going nowhere fast.

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