20 Feb Sevilla v Manchester United: Talking points
Manchester United take on Sevilla in Andalusia in Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at five key talking points ahead of the tie.
After a week of speculation was compounded by illness, Paul Pogba is in line for a welcome return to the pitch. Jose Mourinho angrily dismissed talk of a fallout with the club’s record signing but admitted the midfielder was struggling for form ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Huddersfield. Pogba was due to start that match only to be laid low by illness, which exacerbated chatter about the midfielder’s future and relationship with his manager. However, the France international was on the plane to Spain and may have a key role to play on Wednesday, whatever formation his boss plumps for.
Luk-ing for more
Strength, skill and poise were all on display as Romelu Lukaku clinically fired a match-winning brace against the Terriers on Saturday. The striker has a fine record against such sides, but questions remain over his ability to impose himself against the best teams and on the grandest stages. While there are better sides than Sevilla left in the Champions League, the 24-year-old can help quieten some of the doubters at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this midweek.
Sights on Sanchez
The most eye-catching signing of the January transfer window has yet to truly sparkle since moving to Old Trafford as Mourinho attempts to effectively shoehorn his best attacking talent into the same side. Alexis Sanchez’s quality is undeniable, though, and he certainly has Sevilla worried, with head coach Vincenzo Montella joking “maybe we can kill him or knock him down or something!”
Case for the defence
United’s defence came in for criticism after the recent shock loss at Newcastle, but they responded with a clean sheet at Huddersfield. It was a 22nd shutout of a campaign that has again seen Mourinho rotate his backline options. Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind remain absent for the trip to Spain, but Eric Bailly has made a welcome return after three months on the sidelines. Antonio Valencia is sure to come in at right-back as Luke Shaw and Ashley Young jostle for the left-back role, with David De Gea returning between the sticks.
Fourth time lucky for Sevilla?
While no side can get near the Andalusians’ success in the Europa League, they have struggled to make a serious impact at the continent’s top table. Sevilla have come a cropper against Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow and then Leicester last season in their previous attempts to make it through the Champions League last 16. Given United’s continental experience and Sevilla head coach Montella’s lack of exposure to this stage, it is little wonder that bookmakers expect Sevilla to fall at this hurdle once more.