Manchester United held Sevilla to a goalless draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, but the game raised questions for Jose Mourinho ahead of their Super Sunday meeting with Chelsea.
United were on the back foot for long periods at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, with David De Gea making fine saves from Steven N’Zonzi and Luis Muriel before the break.
But did Paul Pogba show the defensive discipline Mourinho demands? Is Scott McTominay ready to face Chelsea? And do Manchester United have a creativity problem? We take a look.
Did Pogba take his chance?
Mourinho has dismissed suggestions that his relationship with Pogba has become strained recently, but he did little to dispel that notion in his pre-match interview on Wednesday. “Paul created some doubts by not playing on Saturday, by his own decision, because he was not feeling good,” he said of the Frenchman’s absence against Huddersfield.
The United boss responded by leaving Pogba on the bench at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, but Ander Herrera’s early injury ensured he did not have to wait long for his opportunity, jogging onto the pitch in the 17th minute as his team-mate trudged down the tunnel.
Mourinho’s issues with Pogba’s recent performances have centred on a lack of defensive discipline, but he will take encouragement from his contribution against Sevilla. Pogba was arguably United’s best player with the ball, making nearly twice as many passes in the opposition half as anyone else, but it was also notable that he did not stray too far forward.
In fact, Pogba only had a single touch in Sevilla’s box. Instead, he was defensively switched on and clearly mindful not to leave too much space between himself and his midfield partners. By the end, only Scott McTominay and Ashley Young had won possession more times. “He did a good job,” said Mourinho afterwards.
Is Scott McTominay ready for Chelsea?
Herrera’s injury deprives Mourinho of another midfield option for Sunday’s game after Marouane Fellaini so he will be grateful for McTominay’s assured performance against Sevilla. In difficult circumstances and on by far the most of his high-profile of his nine Manchester United starts, the academy graduate impressed.
McTominay was assigned to stay tight to Sevilla playmaker Ever Banega. It was not easy but he stuck to the task resolutely, hustling and harrying the Argentine and frequently snuffing out danger. Mourinho used the words “fantastic” and “brilliant” to describe his defensive performance and he did well with the ball too.
The 21-year-old was neat and tidy, completing more than 90 per cent of his passes – just as he did in his recent Premier League starts against Huddersfield and Bournemouth. On this evidence, Mourinho needn’t hesitate to throw him in against Eden Hazard et al on Sunday.
Where’s the creativity?
United’s defensive resilience delighted Mourinho but should he worried by a lack of creativity? They rarely looked like notching an away goal against Sevilla, with Romelu Lukaku’s wild volley from Alexis Sanchez’s chipped pass their only notable scoring chance. Over the course of the 90 minutes, they only mustered one shot on target.
That may not seem too surprising given their priority was simply to avoid defeat, but it continues a recent trend. In their last five games in all competitions, against Sevilla, Huddersfield (twice), Newcastle and Tottenham, Mourinho’s men have only managed 11 shots on target. They must find a way to buck the trend against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Time to unleash Martial, Rashford?
Mourinho opted to start with Juan Mata over Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford against Sevilla, but it will surely be necessary to take a more aggressive approach against Chelsea. United’s attack lacked pace and penetration against Sevilla and the duo on the substitute’s bench are surely the best men to provide it.
They are unlikely to start simultaneously after Sanchez’s arrival at the club, but Martial in particular can feel aggrieved by recent omissions. The 22-year-old struggled no more than anyone else in the defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle, but with nine goals and four assists in just 1282 Premier League minutes this season, he has shown how effective he can be.
Lindelof still struggling?
Victor Lindelof has endured a difficult debut season since his arrival from Benfica in the summer, losing his place in the team after some unconvincing early performances, but injuries to Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have opened the door to him again recently.
The Swede helped United keep a clean sheet in his preferred centre-back role against Huddersfield on Saturday, and he was part of another shut-out against Sevilla. He will take heart from the back-to-back clean sheets, but his communication mix-up with De Gea in the first half suggests there is still an underlying nervousness to his game.
If Jones does not recover in time for Sunday, Chelsea will present his toughest test yet.