On Tuesday, La Liga’s Sevilla stand in the way of progression to the Champions League’s quarter-finals. There was nothing to separate the teams three weeks ago during a goalless opening leg in Andalusia, in which the hosts did all the running.
Here are the talking points:
CUPS ARE NOW KEY
With the battle for second spot in the Premier League sewn up in memorable fashion by Mourinho since the stalemate at Sevilla, the serious business of adding silverware awaits.
A trio of epic victories have seen the ‘Special One’ live up to his storied billing in the meantime. Substitute Jesse Lingard earned the 2-1 win triumph against Chelsea, a change of shape saw United come from 2-0 down to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 and he outwitted ‘gegenpressing’ opposite number Jurgen Klopp and ruthlessly exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses in Saturday’s commanding 2-1 victory.
Defining ties will be played in the next five days.
Overcome Sevilla and United are back in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 2013/14. Beat Brighton on Saturday and a run to a record-equalling 13th FA Cup for the Red Devils opens up.
A Europa League and League Cup double salvaged a disappointing debut campaign. These upcoming games will help define 2017/18’s ultimate success.
ALL GUNS MUST FIRE
The totems of the Red Devils’ present and future continue to endure contrasting fortunes.
Local boy Marcus Rashford reinforced his ‘wunderkind’ reputation with a fantastic brace in the weekend’s defeat of bitter rivals Liverpool. This continues the 20-year-old’s renaissance since a lively cameo at Sevilla.
He transformed the match at Selhurst Park. A double at the weekend came upon his first top-flight start since December 30.
Yet in the same game, superstar January addition Alexis Sanchez’s struggles to find his spot continued.
Utilised behind the excellent Romelu Lukaku, the Chile forward had zero shots and just two key passes. It is now 523 minutes since his last – and only – United goal.
A grandstand performance is long delayed.
STATS ARE NO SOLACE
Sevilla fans have ridden a rollercoaster this season.
It is almost impossible to predict how Vincenzo Montella’s men will fare at Old Trafford. Their form guide in La Liga since performing so well in the scoreless first leg reads; a 5-2 hammering at home by Atletico Madrid, a forgettable 1-0 home win at bottom-placed Malaga, a 2-0 victory against mid-table Athletic Bilbao and then being put to the sword by a Geoffrey Kondogbia-inspired Valencia by the reverse scoreline.
For a man who dislikes nuance, this unpredictability will unsettle Mourinho. So will United’s record of just two wins from their last 12 games against Spanish opposition.
Sevilla have not won on six trips to England, or previously progressed past the Champions League’s round of 16.
Yet a repeat of September’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool will send them through, plus they’ve lost only two of their last 11 away matches in Europe. A tricky test awaits.
United manager Jose Mourinho revealed Pogba was a doubt for the last-16 second-leg encounter against Sevilla and the club-record signing was absent from Monday morning’s training session.
Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Ander Herrera were also missing but Anthony Martial and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were in attendance.
The Blues must score at the Nou Camp to progress at the expense of Lionel Messi and company after last month’s 1-1 first leg.
“It’s important to understand that we must be prepared to suffer, if we play with Hazard as number nine, or if we play with Giroud or Morata as number nine and Hazard as number 10,” Conte told Chelsea TV.
Conte says he will consult his players over the tactics for a pivotal contest and hopes for a repeat performance of the one at Stamford Bridge, albeit without a Barca goal.
“We need to repeat the game we played at Stamford Bridge and to try to exploit the chances to score,” the Italian added.
Chelsea beat Barcelona en route to winning the 2012 Champions League.
A remarkable performance at the Nou Camp saw the Blues draw 2-2 and earn a 3-2 aggregate victory to advance to the final of Europe’s premier club competition almost six years ago.
Defender Gary Cahill, who was injured in that game, said: “I didn’t spend too long out there last time with my hamstring that I pulled.
“But the result was fantastic and the rest is history. Let’s go there with confidence we can put in a good show and do the best we possibly can to get through to the next round.
“It’s poised nicely. We’ve got one game to try to go through against world-class opposition. We know it’s going to be tough, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
Chelsea travel after Saturday’s 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Crystal Palace, which followed four losses in five Premier League games.
Chelsea’s next Premier League game is against Tottenham, their rivals for a top-four place and Champions League qualification.
“We got ourselves in a sticky situation, in terms of previous results, and we need to get ourselves out of it,” Cahill added.
“That meant a win. It was all about the three points from the word go, however we got them.
“We could’ve clearly had three, four or five, even, with the chances we created. That’s positive and ultimately we won the game. That’s all that matters.”
Palace were 2-0 down at half-time after Willian’s strike and a Martin Kelly own goal.
Defender James Tomkins, who cleared a Giroud effort off the line, bemoaned a strike from Alexander Sorloth which was disallowed late on by referee Anthony Taylor and came before Patrick van Aanholt netted what proved merely a consolation against his former club.
Tomkins said on cpfc.co.uk: “We were unlucky with the decision to disallow Alex’s goal.
“For me, not a chance it was a foul. The referee’s made that decision without a reaction from the Chelsea players, so it’s disappointing, but we have to go again.”
Palace are now without a win in seven games.
Tomkins added: “You can look at it and say we were unlucky, but it’s another defeat.
“We’ve taken the big teams close, right to the wire, but it’s still disappointing because a loss is a loss, whether you lose 5-0 or 1-0, we need points now.”
Provided by Press Association Sport