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Manchester United vs Sevilla: Jonathan Wilson's tactical preview

Manchester United vs Sevilla: Jonathan Wilson's tactical preview

The Pogba dilemma and Lukaku's improved all round game could decide Champions League tie.

Team News

The return of Eric Bailly was a huge part of Manchester United’s improved performance against Liverpool, but the Cote d’Ivoire defender has damaged his knee and is a slight doubt. That adds to a lengthy list of absentees for United, who are already without Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones at the back. In midfield, Paul Pogba may miss out again with a gashed leg, although given how well United played without him on Saturday, that may not be such a concern as it once would have been. Marouane Fellaini is available again but Ander Herrera is still out. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a knee injury while Anthony Martial may not be back after suffering a knock in last week’s win over Crystal Palace.

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Since losing at Newcastle a month ago, United have won four and drawn one of their last five games. Given the draw was at Sevilla and they’ve beaten two top-six rivals in that run, that’s an impressive string of results, even if a couple of the performances have been questionable. They were deserving winners in the home games against both Chelsea and Liverpool, though. Sevilla remain fifth in Spain but their form is uncertain. Although they’ve won five of their last eight games, they’ve also lost heavily to Atletico and went down 2-0 to Valencia on Saturday.

Past Meetings

The goalless draw in the first leg was the first time Sevilla and United have faced each other. United’s recent record against Spanish sides, though, is not good, with a defeat at home to R Madrid putting them out of the Champions League in 2013, a year after they had lost at home to Athletic to go out of the Europa League. Sevilla have never progressed beyond this stage of their competition, and have never won in England in six attempts.

Pogba, Again

Someday, Paul Pogba will cease to be an issue for Manchester United, but it is not yet. In his absence on Saturday, Jose Mourinho reverted to a 4-2-3-1 in which Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay were admirably disciplined. Only four of McTominay’s 42 touches came more than 10 yards inside the Liverpool half. That, clearly, is not a game Pogba could play nor one he should play, but it does create an issue of shape if he is to return. The theory since he joined United has been that he is at his best on the left of a midfield three, but even in that role in recent weeks he hasn’t been overly impressive. The concern now must be that his excellence at Juventus wasn’t just about having a shuttling role with a holder behind him, but having a wing-back pushing on and overlapping. United seemed in control on Saturday; the danger is that Pogba’s return will upset the balance they had then.

Sevilla’s Shape

Under Eduardo Berizzo, Sevilla tended to play a 4-1-4-1 but under Vincenzo Montella that has hanged to a 4-2-3-1, with Stephen Nzonzi and Ever Banega at the back of midfield. The press might not quite so intense as it was before, which presumably has been intended make them a little less vulnerable defensively. That’s not quite how it’s worked out though, with 20 goals conceded in his 11 league games in charge.

That said, 15 of those came in three games, the 5-3 defeat to Real Betis, the 5-1 defeat to Eibar and the 5-2 defeat to Atletico. But the message is clear: Sevilla can be got at and if teams do get at them, they will concede (which of course makes it all the more baffling that United didn’t attack them in the first leg).

Lukaku’s Threat

Romelu Lukaku has regularly been dismissed this season as a flat-track bully, but his recent form has been highly encouraging. After a decisive performance against Chelsea, he was excellent again on Saturday, winning the flick-ons that led to United’s two goals against Liverpool. Lukaku has described himself as Mourinho’s “sergeant” on the pitch and there is a sense that he is, finally, beginning to offer consistently the sort of performances that have previously been seen only in snatches.


At 6.45, Sevilla look enticingly long, but they have lost 8 of 14 away games in the league this season, as well and didn’t win any of their away group games. This should be a relatively comfortable United win, so much so that it’s probably worth backing them -1.5 at 2.80. The more conservative alternative is to back against both side scoring at 1.87.



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Jonathan Wilson
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