Mourinho's old trick wearing thin
Manchester Utd 1 Seville 2 - Seville win 2-1 on aggregate
Jose Mourinho made his reputation as a manager who always seemed to know the right performance for the right game, although as he watched his Champions League turn to dust at Old Trafford against a club who were last Spanish title winners in 1946, he may wonder if this old trick is wearing thin.
Against Liverpool on Saturday his team dug in to defend a two-goal lead and were lauded for it, and then three days later, when their superiority should have told against such a modest Seville side, United could not conjure a coherent attacking performance.
They stuttered and stumbled and then, in the space of four second-half minutes, they conceded two goals to a French substitute who is becoming one of the unlikely heroes of this season's Champions League.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals than Wissam Ben Yedder in this season's competition and even that did not guarantee the Frenchman a place in the starting XI. Instead, he came on with 20 minutes left and heaped embarrassment on United.
They pulled a goal back from Romelu Lukaku with six minutes of regulation time remaining, and yet Ben Yedder might even have had his hat-trick against a shattered United team finally forced to take risks.
It leaves Mourinho's season looking very underwhelming, and Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford is the club's last hope of progressing to a trophy this season.
Manchester City could win the league next month when they play their old rivals at home. Both City and Liverpool qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League with ease and Mourinho stomped off at the end to a mix of booing and applause on an evening when everything had gone wrong.
They had spent so much of the last 30 minutes against Liverpool defending that you could have forgiven United for requiring some adjustment, but the first few minutes of the first half was them at their best.
After that it was hard to discern a plan other than the ball being slung forward in the direction of Lukaku or, better yet, Marouane Fellaini, his back to Seville's goal and knocking it down for whoever could get there.
The Belgian was in the side after his return from injury against Liverpool, although in what position was unclear. He tried to get forward and tried to get back and, in the meantime, Steven N'Zonzi and Ever Banega had the upper hand in the centre of midfield.
Fellaini did have one moment late in the first half, when he hustled possession from Seville deep in the away team's half and exchanged passes with Alexis Sanchez before lashing a left-footed shot that Sergio Rico saved. United got back into the match by the end of the half, but long periods of that first period just passed them by.
They did not dwell on the ball in the way that Seville tried to do, passing through Banega mainly but attempting to build gradually from the back. The Spanish side had as much possession as United in the first half, they just failed to do anything of note with it. The promising Argentinian winger Joaquin Correa was closely marked by Antonio Valencia and Seville's attempts to test David de Gea fell well short of the standard required.
Sanchez was played behind Lukaku and generally struggled to do anything of note in the first half, and more than once gave the ball away.
There was no Paul Pogba in the starting XI after his training-ground injury on Friday, or perhaps there was more to it than that.
Marcus Rashford hardly got on the ball in the first half and it was Lukaku who looked the most impressive, especially in the first minute when he charged Simon Kjaer off the ball. He got a ball back from Jesse Lingard but missed the target.
Mourinho had brought back the young Englishman in place of Juan Mata. Scott McTominay was back on the bench to make room for Fellaini but, otherwise, this was the same team who had run through Liverpool in the first half on Saturday and then kept them out after the break. After half-time, Fellaini retreated from the more advanced midfield position he had occupied in the first half and United had the safety of greater numbers in front of their own back four.
On the hour, Fellaini made way for Pogba, although by then it was still unclear who had the upper hand.
Lingard had forced another good save from Rico and Sanchez had been marginally better on the ball.
But Eric Bailly had been obliged to make one of his late heroic interventions when Correa was about to pull the trigger in the area after 48 minutes, and then Pablo Sarabia had got in down the right side and tried to pick out the Colombian striker Luis Muriel. The warning signs were growing.
In the early stages of the second half, Seville could not make anything of the possession they enjoyed. At the back they were excellent, including the Frenchman Clement Lenglet and the Danish Kjaer alongside him.
It was after 70 minutes that the Stretford End first volubly demanded that their team attack. Soon after, as United tried to build an attack down their right side, they gave the ball away and Seville struck.
United were passed through so simply and finally, in Ben Yedder, the substitute who had been on the pitch just three minutes, they had a man capable of taking the chance. The ball came down his right side from Sarabia, and the French striker took a perfect touch to keep it away from Bailly and then slotted a shot past De Gea's left hand.
Mourinho brought on Juan Mata and Anthony Martial, but United were in pieces and the next ball launched into the area exposed the fragility. Correa got a flick on and Ben Yedder nudged it over the line at the back post, a good two feet across, before De Gea could scoop it out after making a rare error.
Lukaku scored a late volley to give some hope to the fans still in Old Trafford, but they had left themselves too much to do, and for that Mourinho has no one else to blame.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)