As tone-setters go, David De Gea providing Harry Maguire with a hospital pass he inexplicably demanded, the Manchester United captain then being promptly mugged by Erik Lamela to allow Youssef En-Nesyri to put Sevilla ahead in the tie with just seven minutes on the clock takes some beating.
But really, United had set the tone for tonight with their clown-car collapse in the latter stages of the first leg at Old Trafford. Sevilla were absolutely brilliant here in a tournament that does things to them and with the relegation fears that have haunted them all season now pretty much gone but the utter paucity of United’s performance really was quite something.
There is mitigation in the list of those missing through injury and suspension, and also in United playing just about the most football possible in a season where that poses a uniquely difficult challenge. To a man they looked mentally and physically spent here in a performance riddled with poor decisions, poor technique and poor execution. But that mitigation cannot entirely excuse what happened here. Everyone’s tired, lads.
The five goals Sevilla scored without reply after United had sauntered into a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford last week really are an extraordinary bunch of rake-stepping calamities from United. Two own goals. A goal gifted in the early stages in front of a raucous crowd by a combination of De Gea’s lapse of judgement and Maguire’s understandable but misguided desire to Be Involved. An attempted header from a Nottingham Forest reject moments after half-time that instead somehow arced in slow-motion passed a leaden-footed United keeper and in. And then finally De Gea finding himself unable to decide between trapping the ball and hoofing it a million miles after charging out of his penalty area and instantly regretting it, doing neither of those things and instead just presenting the ball to En-Nesyri. United were the architects of their own downfall who then turned up to complete the building work as well.
And it really could have been so very many more. Sevilla’s general excellence and relentless press – on which note this game served as yet another reminder of just how much we miss Lamela’s unique brand of absurd and entirely one-footed nonsense in the Premier League – wasn’t quite matched by the composure of their finishing. So many times they were simply presented with the ball by a series of United errors. Minutes before half-time United had a huge escape when a Casemiro ball intended for Aaron Wan Bissaka instead set Sevilla free to score what appeared to be the second goal that had been entirely coming until VAR played spoilsport by correctly noting an offside in the build-up.
The nature and timing of that mistake made the early concession of such a soft goal straight after the break all the more maddening. “Quieten the crowd” must surely have featured prominently on United’s to-do list tonight, and yet here they were in the opening minutes of each half doing all they could to provide entirely unnecessary additional enthusiasm inside a bouncing Sanchez Pizjuan.
De Gea might just have played himself out of that new contract. Maguire did nothing to halt the narrative that continues to swirl around him. But they were merely the most obvious and overtly, cartoonishly bad performances on a night utterly full of them. Antony’s occasional attempts to make something happen in the first half were just about the only admirable, the only non-sh*t thing about it.
United already have the Carabao in the trophy cabinet and would need a startling collapse to miss out on the top four, but there is a serious danger now of the season ending rather glumly after promising so much. Quadruple talk was always guff – and in fairness guff that almost never emanated from United or its players or manager or supporters – but the chance of winning three knockout trophies was very much on.
Now it’s all at risk. Brighton certainly won’t be quivering ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final after watching this game, while another performance like this next week from United and even Spurs might fancy nicking a point.
The myriad individual errors were obviously the most immediately concerning element of this display, but it might ultimately be the general apathy and lethargy that proves more concerning. It’s not that United got knocked out by a Sevilla side that has won this tournament once every three years on average over the last 18 years (our favourite Sevilla stat, by the way, is that they have won the Europa League only one time fewer than they’ve won the City of Seville Trophy and we now have everything crossed that this tally is about to draw level) but that United never once looked capable of getting themselves back into the tie once it started to drift away from them.
They offered so very little and made life as easy for Sevilla as Sevilla made life hard for them. The two teams produced such diametrically opposed performances in every meaningful way that it was hard by the end to conclude they were even attempting to play the same sport.
The final month of this season will be played at breakneck pace with games coming round absurdly quickly. That means there’s always a chance to put things right just around the corner. But that’s a hopelessly glass-half-full reading of United’s situation after this horror show, one which leaves all those fast-appearing matches to come looking at this stage like little more than further opportunity for humiliation.
Leave a Reply