Sevilla vs Manchester United: Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shine where Jose Mourinho failed?

Manchester United vs Sevilla, Sunday, 8pm. Follow the build-up, action and fallout on the Sky Sports website and app with our live blog

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Image: Sevilla will provide a indication of how far United have come under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United have a chance to prove just how far they've come under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday in the Europa League semi-final.

The signs have been very promising - both visually and results-wise - but a win over Sevilla to reach a major European final would hammer home the theory that this team is going places fast. A place in the final against Inter Milan or Shakhtar Donetsk is the prize on offer.

The last meeting between these two teams, just over two years ago, saw United dumped out of the Champions League last-16 by the La Liga side at Old Trafford. It was a performance that epitomised Jose Mourinho's final months in the job; unimaginative, stale and downright dull.

That game may sit somewhere in your memory bank as it was the defeat that triggered Mourinho's infamous 'heritage' rant, where he launched into a 12-minute defence of his record at the top level. You can read that legendary rant here.

United rock up for this winner-take-all showdown in Germany a different team from the Jose days.

There's spark all over the pitch, electricity in the fan base and a brand of football more akin to the traditional Manchester United way. Still, what is missing for Solskjaer is silverware on the mantelpiece - something Jose will tell you he achieved in this very competition with a much inferior side.

Jose
Image: Low moment: Jose Mourinho watches on as Man Utd lose to Sevilla in 2017

Standing in United's way is a force of nature in this competition, who have won it five times since it was re-branded and a team that possess a top-class tactician in the dugout in Julen Lopetegui.

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If a job needs doing in this tournament, call Sevilla.

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They showed against Wolves just what a supremely organised elite European brute they are with and without the ball. A clean sheet there means they have now just conceded one goal in their last eight games in all competitions. A fourth-placed finish - level on points with third-placed Atletico Madrid - domestically also should not be sniffed at.

United were eliminated in the final four of this year's Carabao Cup and FA Cup - something their boss was quick to reference in the aftermath of their edgy win over FC Copenhagen.

He said: "Let's see if we've developed throughout the season because we've had two semi-finals before. We want to go to the next step.

"Semi-finals - that's a good effort, decent but it's not good enough. It's not good enough for Man United still.

"The team has been developing, getting more and more hungry. Let's make sure that hurt that we felt in both the other cups that we've gone out, that can be our maybe marginal difference. The difference that we want it more than them.

He has underlined the fact that semi-finals appearances are not enough. Now is the time to go to the next level.

Stop Banega, stop Sevilla

Sevilla's key man: Ever Banega
Image: Sevilla's key man: Ever Banega

Sevilla absolutely took charge of the ball against Wolves, to suffocating levels.

It was this relentless possession-based pressure which sucked the life out of the opposition's legs and that opened the door for the late winner. At that stage, Sevilla minds were sharper and it proved pivotal.

United need to stop Sevilla doing the same, and stop it at the source. That source is Ever Banega, who was the conductor at the top of his game in the quarter-final win. After Raul Jimenez's missed penalty, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves didn't get a kick due to Banega's clever movement of the ball and chemistry with his team-mates in forward areas.

He had the most touches (139), most passes completed (103) and created the joint-most chances in the game (3) - this included the sublime cross for the winning goal, scored by the dangerous Lucas Ocampos.

Banega has history with United, too. He was the standout player when Sevilla raided Old Trafford in the last meeting. Marouane Fellaini was tasked with stopping him and was given the runaround.

United, like Wolves, are likely to play three in the middle of the park and one of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic or Bruno Fernandes will be tasked with getting tight to the Argentine. They will need to do a far better job of disrupting Banega's flow than Wolves achieved. Stop him, and United will have a platform to unleash their rampaging attacking players.

Speed kills: United must utilise it

Wolves were largely toothless in trying to test the well-marshalled Sevilla defence, led by the impressive Jules Kounde, who has been reportedly touted as the man to replace Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid. However, there was one weakness Solskjaer will have spotted: defending against pace.

The La Liga giants love to keep the ball, as shown by their 67 per cent possession haul against Wolves but that does open them up to the counter.

Adama Traore for the first 20 minutes scared the life out of them with his direct bursts that got their backline running for cover. It was his devastating run that caused enough panic for Santos Silva to haul him down for the penalty. Wolves didn't make that opportunity count with Jimenez fluffing his lines from the spot - something that United don't usually pass up.

They have been awarded 21 penalties in all competitions this season (four in the UEFA Europa League), including Fernandes' extra-time winner in the quarter final - more than any other side across Europe's top five leagues.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United is awarded a penalty after a foul by Eric Dier of Tottenham
Image: Paul Pogba of Manchester United is awarded a penalty after a foul by Eric Dier of Tottenham

Many are talking about the United penalty haul in conspiracy theory-like terms but their ability to win fouls in and around the box is no fluke. Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial are tricky customers when at full pelt. Yes, sometimes they go looking for the foul but that's a skill in itself, earned by thinking quicker than the defender.

Sky Bet have it at 7/2 that United are awarded their 22nd penalty of the season. With such pace, power and cuteness on show, that's a price even the most hardened bookmaker would be nervous laying to big money.

Team news

Solskjaer's team will have had six days to prepare for this showdown and there are no new injury concerns. Alex Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw have all been ruled out for the remainder of the season with injury.

Victor Lindelof and Matic look poised to return to the starting XI in the semi-final after being rested for the win over Copenhagen.

Sergio Romero has featured in nine of the 11 Europa League games but Solskjaer may decide to trust David de Gea in what is one of their biggest games of the season.

Sevilla are back to a full-strength squad after midfielder, Nemanja Gudelj, who tested positive for COVID-19 on the return to training to prepare for the Europa League, has travelled to Germany on Thursday following a period of isolation and a negative test.

Former Manchester City pair Jesus Navas and Fernando will start as will the lively Suso, who made 21 appearances for Liverpool during a largely unsuccessful spell in the Premier League.

Match stats

  • This will be only the third European meeting between Manchester United and Sevilla - their other two games were in the last 16 of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League, with Sevilla winning 2-1 at Old Trafford in the second leg, after a goalless draw in the first leg.
  • Sevilla have reached the UEFA Europa League semi-final on three previous occasions and gone on to win the tournament on all three occasions (2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16); in fact, the Spaniards have only been eliminated in one of their last 20 knockout ties in the competition, losing 6-5 on aggregate to Slavia Prague in the last 16 in 2018/19.
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjær has won 49 of his 89 matches in charge of Manchester United. Victory in this game would see him become the third-fastest manager to reach 50 wins in all competitions in the club's history after Ernest Mangnall (78) and José Mourinho (81).
  • Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in more UEFA Europa League goals this season than any other player (11 for Man Utd and Sporting CP combined). He has either scored (7) or assisted (4) in seven of his nine appearances in the competition this campaign.
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