Sevilla have caught the eye in the Europa League, while Manchester United are no longer favourites to win the tournament. Kevin Hatchard predicts a tight semi-final.
"Since the end of February, these teams have suffered one defeat between them. Both defences are solid, and I anticipate a cagey affair."
Sevilla v Manchester United
Sunday 16 August, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Beyond the controversy, Sevilla have earned progress
When you've had as much continental success as Sevilla have had in the 21st century (they have won the UEFA Cup/Europa League five times) you come to realise that sometimes you need a bit of good fortune. Having been caught in the headlights of the Adama Traore high-speed train in the opening moments of their quarter-final against Wolves, Sevilla conceded an early penalty. That spot-kick from Raul Jimenez was saved, but replays showed clear encroachment, and the kick should have been retaken. According to Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves, even the referee has admitted an error was made.
That officiating error shouldn't detract from what was another accomplished performance from the Andalusians against a tired Wolves outfit. Lucas Ocampos' late header yielded a fully-deserved winner, and Julen Lopetegui's side have now extended their unbeaten run to 19 matches. Their last reverse was all the way back in February, and since then they have racked up 11 clean sheets.
Midfield craftsman Ever Banega made the winner in the 1-0 win over Wolves, and continues to produce works of art. He had 140 touches against Wolves, a game in which not a single opposition player had more than 44. Sevilla had 75% possession, and had 18 shots to Wolves' six. They had 14 corners to Wolves' nil in a display of dominance.
Lopetegui will probably name an unchanged line-up, as he has no fresh injury or suspension concerns. Striker Youssef El-Nesyri's mobility and work-rate should see him once again chosen ahead of the more statuesque Luuk de Jong.
United right to be wary of Sevilla
The nadir of Jose Mourinho's fractious reign as Manchester United boss was surely the Champions League exit to Sevilla in 2018. United drew 0-0 in Spain, and then produced a torpid, mind-numbing display at Old Trafford as they lost 2-1. Chants from the United faithful of "attack, attack, attack" went unheeded, as the hosts managed just three shots on target against a team that went on to finish seventh in La Liga that season.
United still have many of the same players, but the outlook is a brighter one. Mourinho's replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is slowly winning people over after an inconsistent start, and has seen his side suffer just one defeat since January 22. Midfielder Bruno Fernandes has been a revelation since arriving in January, and it was the Portuguese international who scored the winner from the penalty spot against Copenhagen in the quarter-finals.
United only won that game 1-0 after extra time, but they dominated a lively encounter, and were repeatedly denied by a world-class series of saves from the Danes' keeper Karl-Johan Johnsson. Although there were one or two scares at the other end, United deserved to make progress, but they have dropped to second in the Europa League Winner market. The Red Devils now trade at [3.2] to win the Europa League, with Inter the [2.78] favourites.
Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof could return to the starting XI, while Marcus Rashford is struggling with a groin injury. Sergio Romero should once again get the nod in goal ahead of David De Gea.
Don't expect an early finish
I don't think there is much to choose between the sides here. Sevilla have played with control and panache, and United should really have beaten Copenhagen more comfortably than they did. On a warm evening in Germany, I expect a cagey affair between two sides that have suffered just one defeat between them since the end of February.
I don't often back the draw, but I really can see these two cancelling each other out and going into extra time. At [3.25], backing a stalemate is an attractive option.
In the To Qualify market, United are [1.84] favourites, with Sevilla [2.16].
Goals and chances at a premium
With Banega almost impossible to dispossess, Sevilla will look to keep the ball away from United's fleet-footed attacking players, and they'll look to avoid a repeat of their slow start against Wolves. They have kept clean sheets in seven of their last eight games, while United have managed four shut-outs in their last eight outings.
I can therefore see why Under 2.5 Goals is trading as low as [1.66], so it's therefore worth considering backing No in the Both Teams To Score market at [1.94] or even backing 0-0 in the Correct Score market at [9.2], looking to trade out at some point.
Fernandes to break the deadlock?
With goals expected to be in short supply, the prices have been inflated in the To Score market. I will bang the Bruno Fernandes drum until markets adapt to what he does. 11/4 is a generous price for a guy who takes penalties and will shoot from anywhere. Fernandes has found the net in six of his last nine appearances.
On the Sevilla side of things, Lucas Ocampos is priced at 9/4 - he has scored in four of his last nine games, and has 17 goals in all competitions.
2020 Europa League Finals Germany P/L
Points Staked: 7
Points Returned: 8.71
P/L: +1.71 points
Back the draw at [3.25]