Manchester United’s Europa League dream crashed by Sevilla

Fred and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United look dejected following their sides defeat in the UEFA Europa League Semi Final between Sevilla and Manchester United at RheinEnergieStadion on August 16, 2020 in Cologne, Germany.

Manchester United’s long season ended on game No 61 and in semi-final heartbreak. 

Extras time appeared the favoured outcome before Luuk de Jong stole ahead of a dozing Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka to score the winner 12 minutes from time for Sevilla.

While they will meet Shakhtar Donetsk or Internazionale in Friday’s final, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side head for the beach and reflection on what might have been. 

A third-place Premier League finish is admirable but losing in the League Cup, FA Cup and now Europa League semi-final is a disappointing sequence United will not wish to repeat.

Solskjær dropped the regular cup goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, for David de Gea, the latter making a second appearance in this 12th match of United’s campaign in the competition, while Fred was retained ahead of Nemanja Matic. 

Sevilla were billed as probably the toughest opposition post-lockdown by Solskjær, whose hoped team started on the front foot as Solsjkær had demanded.

First, Marcus Rashford found Bruno Fernandes who relayed to Mason Greenwood. A corner was claimed but when this broke and Fred crossed Harry Maguire failed to make Yassine Bounou save.

Sevilla’s No 1 did repel a Rashford shot in the move that claimed United’s opener. Once more Anthony Martial’s blossoming as a world- class No 9 showed. 

His clever round-the-corner pass was a return to Rashford that allowed him to fire at Bounou and while the save was made Diego Carlos was adjudged by Felix Brych to have taken the forward out, and the referee awarded a penalty. After his trademark hop-then-swing Fernandes finished confidently in the top right corner.

Sevilla were unbeaten in 19 and showed why when Lucas Ocampos moved in behind and forced De Gea to beat the ball out for a corner. This initiated a tempestuous period before the break in which Brandon Williams and Carlos were booked - the latter somehow having escaped a card for the spot-kick.

A Fred shot apart, Sevilla were seeing far more of the ball near United’s goal. Each time Solskjær’s men tried an out pass Martial or Rashford could not make possession stick. 

This presaged the concession of a defensively disastrous equaliser: Wan-Bissaka lost Sergio Reguilon and after the left-back coasted past him his cross was smashed home by Suso.

This had Rashford reviving a complaint about a throw-in not given ahead of the move but the real issue was a serious lack of control from United. Paul Pogba’s outing had thus far been anonymous: when he did finally link-up to square the ball to Martial the French striker blazed over, but the difference this made to his team was obvious.

Tempers again frayed when Maguire was penalised for a challenge on Youssef En-Nesyri and Julen Lopetegui accused United’s captain of an elbow. This had Brych warning Sevilla’s manager and Solskjær telling him to be quiet.

A swerving Rashford 30-yard free-kick tested Bounou and Fernandes’s volley did the same as United ended the half pinning Sevilla back, with Pogba having an extended word with Brych as the sides wandered off. 

Solskjær had to calm his side and ensure the second half was one of focus on the prize of a final appearance only. Again, United’s start was bright and what unfolded was Sevilla descending into more needle.

A weighted Fernandes pass put Greenwood in and his right foot shot was blocked from what looked a United second. Next, Fernandes crossed for Martial to cause a point-blank save from Bounou, Rashford’s follow-up was stymied and moments later the Portuguese himself claimed a corner with yet another close effort.

Lopetegui took off En-Nesyri and Ocampos which seemed strange as each had led the bid to niggle United which appeared a managerial ploy. Two back-heeled Pogba pirouettes took him clear in a prime illustration of what was needed. But, again, no cutting edge was applied.

Alarm bells clanged when Joan Jordan’s free-kick hit Fernandes’s arm and the noisy Sevilla contingent yelled for a penalty: VAR ruled against. 

But, now, Lopetegui’s decision to take off Ocampos was proved clever as De Jong finished past De Gea after Wan-Bisskaka and Lindelof slumbered. 

United finished in frantic fashion but just could not unlock Sevilla’s door for the equaliser. Now, it is all about next season for Solskjær and his team.

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