14 Mar Q&A – What now for Manchester United?
Manchester United are reeling from Tuesday’s shock Champions League exit to Sevilla – an abject display that threatens to throw their season into disarray.
Wissam Ben Yedder came off the bench to secure the Spaniards a deserved 2-1 last-16 second leg win at Old Trafford, where the hosts were jeered off the pitch having only belatedly got their act together as Romelu Lukaku netted.
Here, Press Association Chief Football Writer Simon Peach looks at Tuesday’s loss and how it leaves Jose Mourinho’s men.
So, what went wrong?
Something everyone at United is trying to get grips with in the aftershock. The goalless first leg in Sevilla never seemed as sturdy a result as some suggested given the lack of away goal and the hosts’ performance, with only inspired goalkeeping from David De Gea keeping United on level terms. Instead of heeding that warning, United wilted under the Old Trafford floodlights. Poor tactics, inept individual displays and a questionable attitude allowed Sevilla to progress to the quarter-finals at the fourth time of asking.
Did many people see that coming?
Well, not given United’s fine form since the first leg, having shown spades of character in beating Chelsea, Crystal Palace and bitter rivals Liverpool to increase their stranglehold on second spot. The Red Devils had won 11 of 15 UEFA competition ties in which they recorded a first-leg away draw, including six of nine when it had ended goalless on the road. Then, lest we forget, there is the financial gulf between these clubs, along with Sevilla’s struggles at times this season and the fact they had never won on English soil before. Last year they bowed out in the last-16 to Leicester.
So, where does this leave United?
Their last remaining hopes of silverware come in the FA Cup, making Saturday evening’s quarter-final against Brighton all the more important. Mourinho oversaw Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory in his first season, but Manchester City’s eye-watering lead means the Premier League is out of reach on the back of Carabao Cup and Champions League exits. The Portuguese did not take kindly to a Spanish-speaking reporter asking whether that represented failure for United in the post-match press conference.
Wasn’t Mourinho a bit chippy after the game?
On a night when it was plain to see the best team won, the United boss claimed their performance was not bad. Mourinho was curt with some journalists in the post-match press conference and attempted to downplay the surprise loss by bringing up the last-16 exits he masterminded from the away dugout at Old Trafford when managing Porto and Real Madrid. His claims that the exit is not “something new for the club” has not gone down well with many the fans, especially given his side’s negativity over both legs against Sevilla.
What happens next?
The inquest is ongoing but, as Mourinho pointed out, there is no time for self-pity with Brighton looming large. United fans will demand a response from their under-performing side and FA Cup progress in a match when the manager’s selection and approach will be under scrutiny. An effective role needs to be found for January signing Alexis Sanchez – that or he needs to be dropped – and Paul Pogba continues to prove a tactical headache for Mourinho, who has the attacking talent but has struggled to effectively shoehorn it into a coherent side. Given the ongoing questions over style and silverware, you would not blame United fans for making envious glances across to swashbuckling City right now.