Romelu Lukaku must shed the flat-tack bully tag and be Man United's key man against Sevilla

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Lukaku's scored 20 goals this season.

Manchester United face Sevilla on Wednesday with a chance to establish their credentials as genuine Champions League contenders.

A strong result over the tie, and especially in the first leg away from home, will give United the confidence that they can compete for this year’s title.

Here’s a look at the key battles that will determine the outcome of the tie.

WISSAM BEN YEDDER V ROMELU LUKAKU

0220 Yedder v Lukaku

Ben Yedder is the classic penalty box poacher. He hasn’t even taken a shot from outside the box in the Champions League this season, and yet, he’s scored six times.

His ability to find a pocket of space in the penalty area is lethal. Combine his finishing prowess with his talent from set-pieces and you have a deadly striker – as Liverpool found out during Sevilla’s comeback from 3-0 down to earn a draw in the group stages.

Nicknamed “Benyebut” because of the French word for goal (“but”), the Frenchman’s pace and movement will keep United’s defenders honest throughout.

Pace is a key asset for Ben Yedder’s opposite number. Lukaku‘s underrated speed is what makes United’s counter-attack work, along with his link-up play to bring his teammates into the attack.

Lukaku’s physicality will also be a handful for Sevilla, whose defence has shown a vulnerability this season – they let in five against Spartak Moscow in a surprising loss, not to mention the three they conceded to Liverpool before coming back. The Belgian is the sort of striker who will give Sevilla problems.

This tie also gives the 24-year-old the opportunity to shed the flat-track bully tag – it’s his first appearance in the Champions League knockouts.

STEVEN N’ZONZI V NEMANJA MATIC

0220 Nzonzi v Matic

N’Zonzi’s composed play in midfield has been at the heart of everything good about Sevilla over the last two years. He’s shed his reputation as a no-nonsense bruiser – an undeserved tag in any case, because he was shoehorned into an old-fashioned defensive midfield role.

The Frenchman now helps Sevilla control the midfield, keeping play ticking over and recycling possession as well as stepping in to cut out opposition attacks, very much the modern midfielder in the mould of United’s Michael Carrick.

Like a metronome, N’Zonzi sets the tone for Sevilla’s play. As he goes, so does the rest of the team.

It’s the same role that Matic occupies for United now that Carrick is unable to play every game – although they may play together on Wednesday. Matic’s arrival at Old Trafford added steel to the United midfield, making them defensively more stout.

What Matic does best is let the attacking players play their natural game. He shifts the ball quickly, and also has the ability to find players in dangerous positions with an underrated passing range.

His one weakness is his lack of pace, which leaves United vulnerable to the counter and his form of late has dropped from his early-season domination.

N’Zonzi vs Matic is set to be the battle that defines the tie.

GABRIEL MERCADO V CHRIS SMALLING

0220 Mercado v Smalling

The veteran Mercado has had an up-and-down campaign for Sevilla. On occasion, he can be solid, outstanding even, but he can also be erratic and at times gets beaten too easily.

With Simon Kjaer injured, however, the responsibility of leading Sevilla’s defence against United’s attack falls upon the Argentinian. Mercado will have to marshal the young Clement Lenglet and the rest of his colleagues on a night where Sevilla cannot afford the sort of mistakes that saw them slip up in the group stages.

Coming back from deficits will not be as easy against United, so they’d rather not have to face one.

Sometimes outstanding, sometimes erratic is a description that can be applied to Smalling as well. He had a decent game on Saturday in United’s FA Cup win over Huddersfield, but that came after a horror show of a performance against Newcastle.

Those two games could serve as a microcosm of Smalling’s United career. The Red Devils need him to be the best version of himself on Wednesday, in a difficult away game.

With Ben Yedder snapping away at his heels and trying to allude his attentions, the Englishman will be the target for Sevilla to spring an upset.

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David De Gea's unwanted record against Sevilla and other Man United match facts

David Cooper 20/02/2018
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David De Gea

Jose Mourinho takes his Manchester United side to Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.

Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield was a welcome boost at the start of a “massive week” which sees Mourinho’s former side Chelsea arrive at Old Trafford after the trip to Spain.

Here, we look at the key match facts and statistics ahead of the clash.

– This will be Sevilla’s fourth double confrontation with a Premier League side in three seasons. They lost twice to Manchester City in the 2015/16 group stage, were knocked out by Leicester City in the last 16 last season, and drew twice with Liverpool in this season’s group stage.

– Sevilla won three straight Europa Leagues between 2014 and 2016, but they have never gone past the round of 16 in the Champions League, losing three times at this stage in the last decade.

– United manager Jose Mourinho won seven and lost just once in eight meetings with Sevilla during his three years in charge of Real Madrid from 2010 to 2013. He enjoyed 6-2 wins there in La Liga on two occasions in 2011.

Man United boss Jose Mourinho

Man United boss Jose Mourinho

– The Spanish side have lost all three of their previous round of 16 ties. In 200708 they were beaten 3-2 on penalties by Fenerbahçe SK after a 5-5 aggregate draw (2-3 away, 3-2 home); two years later they lost 3-2 over two legs against PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1 away, 1-2 home) and they lost 3-2 to Leicester City FC 12 months ago (2-1 home, 0-2 away).

– The Andalusian club’s record at home to English teams is W3 D1 L1.

– David De Gea did not record a win in four fixtures against Sevilla while at Atletico Madrid (D1 L3).

– Up to and including matchday six, Wissam Ben Yedder had scored 13 goals in 18 appearances in all competitions this season; in the 12 games since he has managed only four, although he was on target at Las Palmas.

– That UEFA Super Cup defeat by Madrid means United have now won two of their last 11 matches against Spanish clubs, with four draws and five defeats in that time. The Red Devils have also won five of their last 22 matches with Liga opposition (D9 L8).

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Ashley Young believes Man United can win Champions League this year

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Manchester United’s solid defence and attacking options make Ashley Young believe Champions League glory is realistic this season.

For the first time since 2013/14, the three-time European champions are back in the knockout phase of the continent’s top competition.

Wednesday sees Jose Mourinho’s side take on Sevilla in the first leg of the last-16 clash, yet there is already half an eye on the Kiev finale this May.

Having lifted the Europa League last year, experienced full-back Young sees no reason why they cannot challenge for the Champions League this time.

“Of course (we can win the Champions League),” versatile full-back Young said.

“You don’t enter a competition not to win it. That’s what we will be looking to do and take each game as it comes.

“The next one is against Sevilla. That’s a tough away game like Huddersfield, like Newcastle away. That’s what the stadium is like. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”

Young has also not given up on usurping runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City – “we know the points difference but never say never” – having reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Saturday’s 2-0 fifth round win at Huddersfield was a welcome boost at the start of a “massive week” that sees Mourinho’s former side Chelsea arrive at Old Trafford after the trip to Spain.

United’s win in West Yorkshire was a timely response after the surprise loss at Newcastle, with their latest clean sheet particularly sweet after the defence came in for criticism.

“It’s fantastic,” Young, deployed at right-back on Saturday, said.

“I think a lot has been said about defenders and what not – a lot was said last week – and it’s one of them things. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

“Keep getting clean sheets and hopefully we can chip in with goals as well as the front boys.”

While far from their best in Huddersfield, United not only defended stoutly but showed their clinical edge as Romelu Lukaku netted a fine match-winning brace.

“His hold up play, his all-round game was fantastic today and he’s done that all throughout the season,” Young said. “He’s getting goals and to get two today was brilliant for him.

Romelu Lukaku 7

“When you’ve got someone, who can hold up the ball like he can and get in the box it’s fantastic.”

And, better still, there were glimpses of Lukaku clicking with high-profile January signing Alexis Sanchez.

“You can see the combinations between them,” Young said.

“Alexis comes inside, and Rom’s seen him and picked him up as well and they’re picking each other out and they have worked well together so far.”

Among the things that did not go so well on Saturday was the implementation of video technology for the first time in a United game, with Juan Mata’s goal from a Young cross controversially ruled out for offside.

“It’s one of them things,” Young added. “It’s in the game now and it goes to someone else to judge.

“Obviously, we have seen it back and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not.

“I think it’s pretty unclear, but we just have to get on with it.

“I was looking to try and get the assist! It’s just one of them things. We were told how long it was going to take and that’s just how long it takes. You just have to get on with it like I said.

“It’s a tough decision to make, we know that, however long it takes it takes so we just have to get on with it.”

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