Europa League semi-final previews: Sevilla v Man Utd and Inter v Shakhtar.


Europa League semi-final previews: Sevilla v Man Utd and Inter v Shakhtar.

Sevilla v Manchester United, Sunday 8pm BST.

Manchester United booked their place in the semi-finals the hard way and the task will only become more difficult from here. Their surprising failure to beat FC Copenhagen inside 90 minutes in the quarter-final on Monday night was perhaps down to them underestimating the Danes, but they cannot afford to be complacent against Sevilla. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side must improve, and fast.

Sevilla’s record in the Europa League is common knowledge – on every occasion that they have got as far as the quarter-finals, they have won the competition. United know all about their threat having been knocked out of the Champions League by them two years ago.

José Mourinho got his tactics wrong in that last-16 tie and it ended badly. After a goalless draw in Spain, the United manager tried to nullify the influence of Sevilla’s key playmaker Éver Banega in the second leg. He left Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial on the bench and opted for a midfield of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard. His cautious approach did not pay off, with Sevilla winning 2-1 at Old Trafford and Banega creating a whopping 17 chances over the two legs.

Keeping the Argentinian quiet will be key once again but United’s best form of defence recently has been their attack, particularly in transition. The speed of their front three on the counter can hurt anyone and Sevilla are a team that focuses on possession. They had 75% of the ball against Wolves in the quarter-final and have averaged 66.3% possession in the competition this season – the highest of any club. Banega is integral to how they play. On Tuesday night, he completed more than twice as many passes (103) as Wolves’ three midfielders combined (40).

United have a number of players who can provide big performances. Martial was impressive against FC Copenhagen; Marcus Rashford was the go-to guy earlier in the campaign; Bruno Fernandes helped turn their season around; Mason Greenwood is an ice-cold finisher; and Paul Pogba has the creativity to unlock defences. However, for all of the talent on the field, a free-flowing end-to-end affair seems unlikely after such a long and arduous season.

Both sides picked up 1-0 wins in the quarter-finals and this is likely to be another tight affair. United have kept eight clean sheets in their 11 matches in the competition this season, while Sevilla have kept seven in their 10 games. Sevilla are very stingy at the back. They have conceded just one goal in their last eight games in all competitions and are unbeaten since early February. Their know-how in this tournament may be pivotal once again.
Prediction: Sevilla 1-0 Manchester United

The first semi-final is evenly poised but, if you agree with the bookmakers, Inter are the clear favourites to beat Shakhtar in the second. The two sides have only been drawn together once – in a qualifier for the Champions League in 2005, which Inter won 3-1 on aggregate. Álvaro Recoba, Obafemi Martins and Adriano scored for Inter in that tie, while former Manchester City man Elano was on the scoresheet for the Shakhtar.

The Brazilian influence remains strong at Shakhtar and, while Inter boast more household names, their opponents have a huge amount of experience and South American flair running through the side. Top scorer Júnior Moraes turned 33 in April but he has been hugely prolific since joining Shakhtar two years ago from Dynamo Kyiv. He scored 26 goals last season and has already hit 25 this season, three of which have come in the last week – against Wolfsburg in the last 16 and then Basel in the quarter-finals. Much of his service comes from his wingers Taison and Marlos, who were also born in Brazil.

This Shakhtar team has been together for a while and is perhaps more settled than Antonio Conte’s new-look Inter, but the speed with which his coaching methods take effect continues to impress. Inter have looked rejuvenated recently, losing just one of their 13 league games after the restart to finish just one point behind Juventus in Serie A. They showed some signs of fatigue in the second half of their quarter-final against Bayer Leverkusen, however, and this will be their 17th game in just over two months.

Although Inter had a tougher run to the semi-finals, Shakhtar reached the last four with ease. They beat Wolfsburg 5-1 on aggregate in the last 16 and Basel 4-1 in a one-leg quarter-final, so should not be overlooked. There are goals in both of these sides and this semi-final may be the more entertaining watch for the neutral.

All eyes will be on Romelu Lukaku, who will be hoping for a final showdown against United. Lukaku set a new record on Monday by scoring in nine consecutive Europa League games. The opportunity to extend that to double figures will surely motivate the Belgian, who has been unplayable at times this season. The 27-year-old has scored 31 goals and is at the peak of his powers once more. He may prove the difference.
Prediction: Inter 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

More information: THE GUARDIAN.