Manchester United has once again found their elite form in Europe they have desperately desired since the end of the Alex Ferguson era. Last year, the club stormed through the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League. This year, the a similar tale was told.
The round of sixteen throws up an interesting challenge, as Manchester United takes on Sevilla, who managed to keep the Red Devils to a goalless draw in Spain. While it’s not the worst case in the world, it does mean that Manchester United has to win in order to advance. A scored draw would allow Sevilla to go through on the away goals rule, and a loss doesn’t do United any favors, except for clearing up their schedule.
It isn’t as if the Red Devils hold a poor roster, as they contain some of the world’s best players on a weekly basis. In saying that, players of that caliber won’t result in an automatic finals berth. Here are three things that Manchester United must do to win the 2018 Champions League:
1. Keep De Gea in Goal
David De Gea proved in the first leg that he is without a doubt the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. It helped that Sevilla was not able to put much on target, but De Gea’s wondersave from five yards out proved his capabilities between the sticks. According to an excerpt from The Daily Mail, De Gea had just 0.18 of a second to make that save from the head of Muriel.
This is not a shot at Sergio Romero, who has been excellent for the Red Devils during the European tournaments, as well as in the cup competitions. Romero was the man between the sticks during the Europa League last year, and made crucial saves to ensure that United brought home silverware. De Gea is in a class of his own though, and as long as he is fit and ready, he should be picked.
2. Respect the Teams
Go ahead and look at the players who ended up starting for the Red Devils against Sevilla. It is understandable that some players do need a rest, but quite a few of the names haven’t seen much action outside of the cup tournaments this year. The likes of Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay have not played too many ninety minute games this year, and yet they are running around in the Champions League.
Again, this is not a shot at these players, because you have to be world-class in order to even have a contract at Manchester United. The likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashdord and Paul Pogba were all sitting on the bench prior to their substitutions. Jesse Lingard and Eric Bailly didn’t see game time. If they want to progress, they need to play in their best form.
3. Keep Pogba on the Bench
The £89.3 million ($124 million USD) signing has been underwhelming lately. It is safe to say that the Frenchman has not lived up to his usual self over the last few months, and that shows with Jose Mourinho starting him on the bench. There are rumors about a rift between the star and Mourinho, which would also explain the benching, but the statistics show a little more of the story.
Pogba has played in seventeen games for the Red Devils in the Premier League, to which he has scored three goals. In the five other games he has played this season (four in Europe, one league cup), he has not managed to find the back of the net. He seems lost at points on the field, and hasn’t provided that creative spark that we saw at Juventus. Once he finds that, he will find the field. Until then, he has to be on the bench.
Image – Manchester United