David de Gea’s stunning one-handed save helps Manchester United claim draw with wasteful Sevilla

Sevilla 0 Manchester United 0: A stunning performance from the Spaniard helped United escape Sevilla with a very credible draw

Mark Critchley
Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium
@mjcritchley
Wednesday 21 February 2018 22:33
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David de Gea denied Luis Muriel from point-blank range
David de Gea denied Luis Muriel from point-blank range

If Jose Mourinho's plan at the start of the night was to leave the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with a useful result and take his star player down a peg or two in the process, it worked, just.

Manchester United will take a goalless draw back to Old Trafford in this Champions League last-16 tie after somehow keeping a dominant Sevilla side at bay, thanks solely to the talents of the world's best goalkeeper, David de Gea.

This game will be mostly remembered for the Spaniard's two superb stops at the end of the first half to deny Steven N'Zonzi and Luis Muriel. The only other real moment of note came with the release of the teamsheets.

In an ego-bruising move ripped from the pages of the Mourinho playbook, Paul Pogba was named among the substitutes after his no-show in the FA Cup on Saturday, with youngster Scott McTominay preferred in midfield.

David de Gea was in inspired form

This particular scheme backfired fairly quickly, though. An injury to Ander Herrera after just 17 minutes meant Pogba played the majority of the match after all, but even with the Frenchman playing on the left of a midfield three, which is often touted as his best position, United failed to either get a handle on their opponents.

Judging by the scoreline alone, this could be characterised as a creditable result to take from the first leg of a European tie away from home. It is, truth to be told, and Mourinho will undoubtedly be pleased to have left with a clean sheet. Yet the performance, devoid of any threat and at times lacking in control too, should provoke concern.

United played within themselves in the first Champions League knock-out stage appearance in four years, as if in unfamiliar territory. One of the many teams in this competition better than Sevilla would have punished them.

Scott McTominay started in the middle of the park

The hours before kick-off were dominated by the news of United starting without arguably their best, certainly their most expensive and absolutely their most marketable player.

Pogba was fit to start but Mourinho claimed the midfielder had “created some doubts” by withdrawing from Saturday's win at Huddersfield Town “by his own decision”. His 21-year-old replacement McTominay, by contrast, was “working hard every day”. Message sent.

This decision surely hurt Pogba, but if the intention was to teach him a lesson, this lesson was short-lived. Mourinho's call backfired when, after just over a quarter-of-an-hour, Herrera succumbed to the muscle injury that had kept him out of United's previous three games.

With only one recognised central midfielder on the bench, the United manager had no alternative but to turn to the player he had tried to punish.

Paul Pogba came on in the first-half

The irony was, United needed him. Sevilla had enjoyed the early run of the midfield battle and though the visitors briefly improved after Pogba's introduction, they ended the half lucky to go in level. United's only clear-cut opportunity of the opening 45 minutes fell to Romelu Lukaku after a delightful, raking pass by Alexis Sanchez. On the volley, the Belgian blazed over.

Otherwise, the first half was merely a battle between Sevilla's marauding forwards and the brilliant De Gea. Joaquin Correa was frustrated by the United goalkeeper more than once, though his relatively tame efforts after cutting inside from the left were small beer compared to what was to come.

In added-on time at the end of the first half, Gabriel Mercardo's overhead kick was nodded goalwards by a leaping N'Zonzi, only for De Gea to palm the effort away one-handed. His denial of Luis Muriel a minute later was better still. Another header, another one-handed save to divert what seemed a certain goal over his own crossbar. De Gea aptly made the sign of the cross on the sound of the half-time whistle. This was divine goalkeeping.

If, in the brief moment of reflection, United's saviour asked for a quieter start to the second half, his prayers were answered. Sevilla's shooting became wayward and those in front of De Gea became blocking off shots close to the source, but Mourinho's side were still decisively second-best after the interval.

Steven N'zonzi went close with a header

The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuain knew as much and, after a string of unsuccessful corners, the home crowd began to become frustrated with their team's failure to make their superiority tell on the scoreboard. De Gea was eventually called into action again after the hour-mark, but Clement Lenglet's tame header into the ground caused little trouble.

Surprisingly, it would be United, not Sevilla, who would finally put the ball in the net, Lukaku momentarily believing he had found an undeserved breakthrough after converting Pogba's smart lofted pass. The Belgian had used his left arm to control the ball, however, and referee Clement Turpin had noticed.

Sevilla pressed on in search of an advantage but, in the closing stages of the second half, failed to fashion the same glorious opportunities that they had created at the end of the first. Sandro Ramirez, the Everton loanee, had one late effort blocked. Marcus Rashford, a replacement for the largely ineffective Sanchez, countered quickly and an attempt of his own zipped wide of Sergio Rico's goal.

Suddenly, with Rashford's introduction, there seemed to be more spark about United but this was too little, too late. There would be no late goal to mask the absence of ambition. A useful result but an uninspiring display.

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