The Champions League Round of 16 resumes this midweek as English sides lock horns against the Spanish counterparts in an absorbing doubleheader.
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United will make the trip to Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to take on Montella’s injury-hit Sevilla as they look to reach the Quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in four years. The Spanish side finished as runners-up in Group E, finishing second to Liverpool and above the likes of Spartak Moscow and Maribor with 9 points on board. In La Liga, they have been hot and cold this campaign, sitting 5th in the competition – held up by a strong home record which has always been vital to them in successful Europa League campaigns in the past.
They have lost just once in 9 games and the prospect of facing a Manchester United side that has just suffered a wobble in recent weeks – should make it a more even contest than it would have been.
Now that winning the league this season is nothing but a pipe dream, United seem to have turned their attention towards winning silverware elsewhere in the cup competitions. While the FA Cup objectively presents them their best chance of winning a trophy this season, United and Mourinho’s nous of winning in Europe could take them farther than they should be able to – on paper. Having last won the competition in 2010, the Portuguese will fancy his side as the dark horse of the tournament but they will have to prove, come Wednesday night in front of a raucous Seville crowd.
Joaquín Correa sustained a reported hamstring injury for Sevilla at the weekend and is a major doubt for the first leg. For Man City wide man Nolito is also a doubt for the home side while January signing Miguel Layún is cup-tied having played in the competition this season for Porto. A back injury has kept Simon Kjaer out since January but he is back in training. Éver Banega is also a doubt after missing Sevilla’s last two games.
United’s big boost will come in the form of Eric Bailly who returned to the bench in the FA Cup win against Huddersfield while Paul Pogba who is rumoured to have had a bust-up with manager Mourinho is also expected to shake off his illness to feature on Wednesday. Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford and Daley Blind are all major doubts for United, while Jesse Lingard will miss the second leg if he is booked in Seville.
- The Tie pairs 2016 and 2017 Europa League winners
- Man Utd have won 5 of their last 6 matches (UEFA Champions League).
- Sevilla have never made it past the round of 16 in this competition.
- United’s record in two-legged ties against Spanish clubs is W6 L7.
Franco Vazquez – Sevilla
Vazquez has found his best position under Montella – at number 10, just behind the forward where he has been an asset to the Spanish side, scoring 2 and assisting 4 in 13 La Liga starts. Having created one and scored one in the last three fixtures in all competitions, the 22-year old goes into their biggest game of the season – in the right frame of mind and will be gunning to prove it at the big stage against one of the biggest clubs in the world. His link-up play with the striker and distribution out wide would be crucial to their chances as Man United usually struggle when they are stretched at the back with fullbacks on the wrong side of 30.
Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United
Lukaku, often criticised this season, sometimes for good reason and other times for things beyond his control, has unsurprisingly hit the 20-goal mark for the campaign in all competitions. Unsurprisingly, because this is the fourth time he has achieved the feat, the fourth consecutive time at that. The Belgian 24-year old is picking up steam at the right time and with United playing crunch fixtures on a weekly basis from now on, it is imperative that he keeps his scoring boots firmly on, as he goes into Wednesday in a fine niche.
A score draw written all over. United to take home a slender away goal advantage.