Manchester United will believe they are in the driving seat heading into the second leg of their Champions League clash with Sevilla after leaving the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium on Wednesday night with a goalless draw.
It was a game with few clear-cut chances, although the centre-forwards on each side had one good opportunity each. Romelu Lukaku tried to side foot a left-footed effort when he should have put his laces through it.
For the home side, Luis Muriel, picked ahead of Wissam Ben Yedder and Everton loanee Sandro Ramírez, should have scored on the stroke of half-time, but although he was unmarked, his header was turned away by David De Gea in spectacular fashion.
All the pre-game talk was on José Mourinho’s decision to drop Paul Pogba from the starting line-up, but the Frenchman made his appearance after just 17 minutes when Ander Herrera appeared to pull up with a hamstring strain.
It wasn’t a game to remember, but here are five points we picked out from United’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla.
Long night for Lukaku
Going into Wednesday’s fixture, Lukaku had scored four Champions League goals from 19 shots, a conversion rate of 21 per cent, which is up there with Mohamed Salah’s league return this season.
For Everton, Lukaku enjoyed playing with more room in behind opposition defences and most importantly, they fed him crosses from either flank.
Despite playing 4-2-3-1, where you would expect width to come from the full-backs, once the forwards cut inside, United have been too narrow and have failed to play to the big Belgian’s strengths.
Against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, twice the 24-year-old was slipped in and his two goals were enough to fire his team into the next round.
Despite a chance in the first half, it was another frustrating evening for the Belgian striker. After 62 minutes of the game, United had only attempted two crosses from open play. Only one was aimed towards the centre-forward, which created his only opportunity.
United finished the game with just five crosses attempted and one came from Lukaku himself.
Too many times, especially with Pogba playing on the left of the centre-midfield, Lukaku had his arm up looking for the deep cross, but time and time again it failed to come and United continued to play short passes amongst themselves.
If Mourinho wants to get more out of his burly forward, it’s quite simple, put the ball into the areas he craves and stop feeding him scraps.
Pogba, Pogba, wherefore art thou Pogba
Talk of where should he play and whether he is as good as some think surrounded Pogba for weeks before Wednesday’s Champions League clash.
The Portuguese coach trolled everyone and decided to drop the talented French midfielder for the trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay. Mourinho would have been hoping what he took away from the attacking side of the midfield, they would gain defensively.
You could see early on McTominay was given the job of tracking Éver Banega, a dangerous creative threat from deep, and the 21-year-old was excellent throughout. He did his defensive job superbly and was neat and tidy with the ball.
Herrera pulled up with a hamstring injury and Pogba made his way on to the pitch. It gave the former Juventus man the chance he and many craved, playing on the left of the midfield three.
Only Matic with 80, made more touches than Pogba’s 65 despite playing less than most. He made 89.8 per cent of his passes, no one in the United team completed more than his five dribbles and only he, Alexis Sánchez and Juan Mata made a key pass.
It wasn’t a vintage performance but it’s clear from a game like Wednesday’s, he is still key to how United play. What stood out most was having players like McTominay and Matic beside him gave Pogba the platform to push forward into the areas where he makes the difference.
Another bone of contention regarding the Manchester United line-ups of late has been how, when you spend hundreds of millions, can you be left with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the centre of your defence?
In fairness, one of the two English defenders would be fine alongside Eric Bailly, who is returning to full fitness and was on the bench, even if that partnership would be nowhere near the dream duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
It was Smalling and summer signing Victor Lindelöf who got the nod for this one and they put in a steady performance away from home.
Smalling did well against Muriel, although he lost him for the headed chance, but they kept the danger in front of them for most of the game.
They combined for four successful tackles, 11 clearances and five blocked shots and only committed one foul between them.
Lindelöf took control of the passing duties, completing 94.3 per cent of his 35 efforts, attempting four long balls. But with Matic coming deep, that job was left to the Serbian midfielder.
Bigger tests will come in the Champions League, but both players did enough to show they are not as bad as some reports may have you believe.
Wasteful Muriel rues chances
It was very obvious what he was trying to do, but it was also very predictable. Playing as the lone forward, every time Muriel received the ball outside the penalty area, he looked to fashion the ball on to his right foot and shoot.
Although they have Joaquin Correa and Pablo Sarabia on the wings, with Franco Vázquez behind, too often the Colombian striker was determined to put his head down and ignore all others.
In the league, Muriel’s xG90 is 0.34, with Wissam Ben Yedder who was left on the bench leading the team on 0.66 and with six league goals and six in the Champions League too.
The 26-year-old finished this contest with six shots, and although three found the target, only the header would have worried De Gea.
United in complete control
Wednesday’s draw was an example by United of how to go away from home and stifle the opposition.
The midfield three, even when Pogba came on, worked to perfection. With McTominay anchoring beside Matic, at times the defensive line looked like a back five.
De Gea had to make a superb stop on the stroke of half-time from Muriel, but although the home side had 25 shots at goal and managed eight on target, 12 of their attempts came from outside the area and the Spanish goalkeeper was rarely troubled.
They may have started their careers as wingers, but as the graphic above from WhoScored shows, both Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were happy to stay on the back foot, with both full-backs combining for just three touches beyond the 18-yard-line.
Mourinho wanted to control the game and he did just that. On their travels, Sevilla have only kept two clean sheets in their last ten games, scoring 13 and conceding 18.
It means United will go into the second leg of this contest confident of progressing.