Alexis Sanchez is still a misfit at Manchester United: Five things we learned from frustrating Sevilla draw
Manchester United managed to hold Sevilla to a goalless draw in the first leg of their round of 16 Champions League tie.
United, who started the game without Paul Pogba, struggled to get a foothold in a game that was largely dominated by the side sitting fifth in La Liga.
Mourinho's side can count themselves fortunate to leave the Sanchez Pijuan with their clean sheet still intact, after Sevilla wasted countless opportunities in front of goal, not helped by David De Gea's imperious form.
After another frustrating night, here are five things we learned:
United are a long way off contention
Mourinho asserted before the game that United were not going to put Sevilla to the sword in the same way his Real Madrid side did six years ago. That night, in December 2011, Real ran out 6-2 winners, but there was no danger whatsoever of that happening tonight.
United sat deep, were listless in possession and unimaginative going forward. Sevilla aren’t world beaters, they looked like a side sitting fifth in La Liga, suffering from the after effects of a bad run of form. But they dominated the game, and if they weren’t so horrendously wasteful, they could easily have a come away with a very positive result to take to Old Trafford.
The full-time result masks the fact that United were so plainly second best in this tie, and when compared to some of the other sides left in the Champions League, they certainly can’t be considered contenders at this point.
United’s best player is still David De Gea
It’s easy to forget about the importance of David De Gea to Manchester United. With big name signings arriving with each passing transfer window, and player rifts and misfits a dominant feature of United’s past few seasons, their frequently substandard football often gets overshadowed.
But without David De Gea, there is no question that the Red Devils would be in a far worse position than they are now.
The Spanish goalkeeper made two superb saves in the first half, the second of which was absolutely outstanding to deny Luis Muriel from under five yards. His reaction times are extraordinary, as his how United have managed to hold onto for so long. They should treasure him while he’s still here.
Mourinho draws his own battle lines
Jose Mourinho doesn’t just fight battles, he creates them. After declaring his club record signing fit at his pre-match press conference yesterday, the Portuguese coach then went on to pick the man with “a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars and no big watch.”
Mourinho’s hand was forced after 17 minutes when Ander Herrera limped off injured, but after stressing the importance of fitness in the past, the decision to play the Basque midfielder ahead of the Frenchman after three weeks out is all the more revealing. It feels like the ground is shifting at Manchester United, and it looks set to be on a path of polarisation, with Paul Pogba, the man, the brand and the player who just doesn’t fit into the tactical set-up, pushed out against a manager unwilling to compromise to keep him happy.
Dropping Pogba tonight was a huge statement by Mourinho, and ultimately, it’s a statement where only one can come out of this still standing.
Jesus Navas is an effective right back
Jesus Navas was notorious at Manchester City for being a player who could comfortably beat a defender, but could only find a teammate from a cross once in a blue moon.
But as Alexis Sanchez found out to his detriment tonight, the diminutive Spanish wide-man is more than a competent full back. Always available as an attacking option and able to use his exceptional pace in recovery, Navas was simultaneously a threat and an effective foil.
He may have had his detractors during his time in England, but in Andalusia, Navas looks perfectly at home, even in his newly discovered position in defence.
Alexis Sanchez still a misfit
Alexis Sanchez is yet to click at Manchester United. Tonight, once again, it just didn’t seem to fall into place. He tried to help his side out defensively, he found himself on the receiving end of a studs first lunge from Steven N’Zonzi.
He tried to make a coy run in behind the Sevilla back line, only to turn straight into the awaiting elbow of Sevilla defender Clement Lenglet. Sanchez’s work rate can’t be faulted, but he is yet to rediscover the elite level that separated him out as one of the best players in Europe while at Arsenal.
Whisper it quietly, but Mourinho may well have another player on his hands whose best position in this United side remains elusive.