This Looks like Sevilla’s Last Champions League Campaign for a While, Make It Count: UEFA Champions League; Last 16 (Part Four)
As the final whistle went at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday, Sevilla definitely knew their fate, at least what it wouldn’t be. The whistle had confirmed a 2-0 home loss to Valencia, the team directly above them in fourth place, and the result means Los Rojilblancos now lie 11 points off the top four, which means they have to worry less about those above them, but more over those below.
With their Champions League hopes via the league route all but in the dust, and the Copa del Rey not coming up for a while, Tuesday’s trip to Old Trafford carries a giant wand of importance. Sevilla’s hopes of Champions League football next season now surely hinges on them winning this one, which is just about as easy as finishing in the top four in La Liga itself, but without much to really play at this time, the prospect of a first Champions League quarter final appearance will serve as some form of motivation.
Vincenzo Montella’s side were no doubt impressive in the first leg at home to Manchester United, but will, also undoubtedly, rue the missed chances and the inability to take advantage of their dominance as the game petered out to a goalless draw. And that’s being the story of Sevilla’s Champions League campaigns in the knockout phase, first legs that bring cause for optimism and no disadvantage, then everything implodes in the return fixture and they’re left to rue what might have been. Such was case in 2008, when they were ousted at the hands of Fenerbahce, in 2010 when CSKA Moscow managed to qualify at their expense, and most recently, 12 months ago, with Leicester dumping them out at this stage. The only difference, and perhaps cause for optimism, is that unlike those years, they are certainly not the favourites, neither are they the side that the spotlight will fall on.
With the league title already a lost cause, this game, alongside the FA Cup game with Brighton next weekend, reads for the word ‘pivotal’ in United’s season. Jose Mourinho has already described this week as ‘die or live’, playing down the weekend victory over Liverpool and placing priority on what follows. ‘Seville and Brighton are more important games than Liverpool’, said the United manager. ‘We have eight more (league) games and 24 points to play for. But Seville and Brighton are die or live games so the next are much more important than this one’.
And there’s no playing down the importance of this game for United, get ousted here and they face the prospect of a trophyless campaign, and more pressure rests on the cup tie with Brighton; they haven’t gotten as far as the last eight of Europe’s elite competition in four years. But Mourinho is something of an expert in two-legged ties, and there’ll no doubt be a touch of confidence in the team, particularly after that Liverpool win. ‘To get the kind of result we did (against Liverpool) shows what kind of team we are and if we can get past Sevilla, it puts us in a good position and then we have the FA Cup’ said Jesse Lingard.
For both teams, the league, despite its sense of priority, is the least to play for this term, as things stand, and whatever happens at the Theatre of Dreams will go a long way to shaping the rest of their seasons.
- In terms of importance, it’s also a weekend of magnitude for Antonio Conte and Chelsea, with the return leg of the finely-poised Barcelona tie and an FA Cup quarter final with Leicester City coming up this week. Conte has already stated he’s willing to consult players on tactics ahead of the game at the Nou Camp, an act no doubt triggered by Eden Hazard’s frustrations at his ineffectual ‘false nine’ role. For Barcelona, it’ll be a welcome return for Lionel Messi, who missed the weekend win at Malaga due to the birth of his son. The Catalan club have reached the last eight of the Champions League in each of the past 10 seasons.
- There’s been some talk of Eusebio Di Francesco’s job being a bit under threat, so his Roma team’s win against Torino on Friday must have been a welcome tonic. They sit third in Serie A, but on the European front they have a massive second leg to play with Shakhtar Donetsk. The Giallorossi were impressive in the first half of the first leg, but faded in the second, on their way to a 2-1 defeat; they haven’t made it to the quarters in a decade.
Manchester United v Sevilla
Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
Besiktas v Bayern Munich
Barcelona v Chelsea