It was all going so well for Manchester United against Sevilla. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
A totally dominant first-half display from Erik ten Hag’s side opened up a comfortable 2-0 lead at halftime thanks to Marcel Sabitzer’s brace, a lead that should have been extended in the second half as United continued to keep up the pressure.
However, the team was made to rue a number of squandered chances as two Sevilla goals in the closing few minutes turned the tie completely on its head.
With just five minutes of regulation time remaining, United’s defensive frailties came back to haunt it once again as hesitance in the back line first allowed Jesús Navas in behind to fire a deflected effort off Tyrell Malacia and past David de Gea.
After making all five substitutes, United was then forced to play the remaining minutes with just 10 men after Lisandro Martínez was carried off with an apparent foot injury.
Then, deep into stoppage time, Youssef En-Nesyri’s wayward header cannoned fortuitously off Harry Maguire’s forehead to wrong-foot De Gea and give Sevilla a shock equalizer.
“There were some unlucky moments, injuries,” ten Hag said after the game, per United, “so we had to make some subs and then lose control in the unlucky moment [Sevilla’s first goal].
“Another unlucky moment with Licha Martínez. We have 10 [men] and we conceded two own goals. It was bad luck and we have to deal with that.
“Of course, we have to learn, we have to kill the game, but still everything is open for the next game.”
But perhaps Sevilla’s comeback – as unlikely as it looked on the night – shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.
The club, after all, is the King of the Europa League having won the tournament a record six times, the most recent triumph coming back in 2020.
In the build up to the game, midfielder Ivan Rakitić and club president José Castro described the Europa League as “our competition,” with that belief on display even late in the game when things were not going according to plan.
“We spoke about it at halftime – 2-0 [down] but with one goal, we put ourselves in the tie and we showed strength not to give up and take advantage of our opportunities,” Sevilla’s new head coach José Luis Mendilibar, per the club.
“In this competition, Sevilla’s soul is very difficult for other teams to have. Even United with the score 2-0, when we made it 2-1, they started to get scared of us.
“It is the history of Sevilla in this competition, which makes it even bigger.”
The second leg takes place at Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium on April 20.