You reach the kings of the Europa League, better not miss them. Manchester United had Sevilla where they wanted after an hour at Old Trafford. After the 90, heartbreaking minutes in Andalusia, they were out of Europe, overwhelmed, overwhelmed and surpassed. After two own goals at the end at Old Trafford came the early and final gifts of the goals at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. After a game where United probably should have won three or four goals came one where they lost by three and they were probably flattered by that scoreline. After a game in which Harry Maguire was unlucky on a Sevilla goal, came a rematch in which he was definitely, and crucially, at fault for one. After a season in which David De Gea has shown at least glimpses of his best came possibly the worst performance of his United career.
If a moment was required to epitomize United’s misadventure, even more so than Maguire’s role in Youssef En-Nesyri’s first goal, De Gea supplied it for the Moroccan’s second. His problems with the ball at his feet were the cause of the first goal. They brought last, the goalkeeper’s complete inability to control or clear a long ball instead of setting En-Nesyri up to find an empty net from 35 yards out. That was how United was, failing in the basics, giving Sevilla the open goal. If the world’s most expensive centre-back wasn’t the worst player on the pitch, it was because its highest-paid goalkeeper was. All three goals can be attributed to him.
But the men United needed to hold their ground were cowed and broken by the ferocity of Sevilla and Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Like Brentford, Liverpool, Newcastle, this was yet another day away where Erik ten Hag’s side were lacking in every way.
United were bullied into defeat, completely legal. It was a test of courage, of determination. They failed it. They went out, their dream of a treble finished, their chances of a domestic cup double feeling precarious in a week that could suddenly narrow their horizons. Meanwhile, Sevilla advances. The six-time winners are 13th in La Liga, but a different team in this competition, their competition. They have had three coaches and a flirtation with relegation in a traumatic campaign but one that could end with a seventh Europa League in less than two decades. It’s an astounding level of overcoming, relative to its resources, by a club that defines itself by a competition that is often ridiculed but excruciatingly difficult to win. Just ask United now: even knocking out Barcelona only got them so far.
They had managed wonderfully well at the Camp Nou. They had won in Seville, against Real Betis. But on the other side of the city, they were awful. The loss of Lisandro Martínez and Raphael Varane in the first leg seemed even more expensive than the two own goals.
Without their first-choice central defenders, there was a lack of conviction. There were chaotic attempts to defend set pieces, which brought the second goal. There were absolutely unimpressive attempts to pass out from behind, leading up to the first one.
Unlucky for his own goal at Old Trafford, Maguire was much more to blame for a goal separated by some nine minutes of football, a week and 1,000 miles. De Gea did him few favors with a pass, but Maguire’s attempt to steal the ball from Erik Lamela was mistimed. He hit the Argentine, bounced to En-Nesyri and his shot went past De Gea. Author of the goal that eliminated Portugal from the World Cup, the Moroccan striker has developed a taste for killing giants.
So have his colleagues. Sevilla celebrated a second goal with uninhibited joy when Lucas Ocampos misled De Gea and his supplier, Marcos Acuña, was declared offside. They were not denied and were able to celebrate with similar fervor when Loic Bade finished off an Ivan Rakitic corner, shouldering the ball up in such a way that it passed over De Gea, almost in slow motion. Then came the biggest howler of the Spaniard and the second of En-Nesyri. After his missed penalty in 2021, the Europa League continues to torment the goalkeeper but too many important occasions have brought mistakes to De Gea.
It was another indication that everything United did went wrong when Bade scored just after Ten Hag had brought in Marcus Rashford and before he had a chance to touch the ball. The Dutchman’s substitutions failed at Old Trafford; in Spain, they were attempts to salvage what increasingly felt like a lost cause.
Without him, United had no threat. With him, they weren’t much better. Sevilla could turn a game around when they are two goals down, with the help of United putting the ball into their own net, but not the other way around. Instead, there were three of them, when a corner of the floor emptied. The rest stayed and savored it.
The Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, part steep stadium, part cauldron, had an almighty roar, streamers flowing from the upper level of the court. It’s the kind of place where people get sunburned or deafened by their hosts. It is a stadium where dreams die, swallowed alive by the fervor of the locals. José Luis Mendilibar’s players were as relentless as the crowd, United hapless and without hope of extending an extraordinary run.
Now they have walked out of Europe to the Spanish opposition for the sixth consecutive season. Forget Brexit, this is Spexit, Manchester United style.