How Vincenzo Montella got his tactics spot on against Jose Mourinho

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 15 March 2018, 09:16

As Manchester United fans in the Stretford End sang about Champions League glory in 1999, what was happening on the pitch on Tuesday evening could not be further from that unforgettable moment for the Red Devils.

With a tie in that same competition delicately poised at 0-0 from the first leg versus Sevilla, United had a perfect opportunity to advance to the Quarter Final in front of their home supporters.

Yet what followed was a lacklustre display as the Spanish visitors struck two goals late on, United’s one-goal reply from Romelu Lukaku not nearly enough for Jose Mourinho’s men to mount a credible comeback in the match. The controversial boss even trolled his own supporters after the final whistle, making strange comments which recalled how he had knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League before with his previous clubs.

"I've sat in this chair twice before in the Champions League, and I knock Man Utd out at home twice, with Porto - Man Utd out, and with Real Madrid - Man Utd out,” he declared in his post-match interview. “So this is nothing new for this football club.”

However, just as the Old Trafford outfit were poor, opposition boss Vincenzo Montella surprised many by getting everything right in his approach to the match.

Since arriving at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan the former Fiorentina man had won eleven, drawn three and lost five of his opening 18 matches, with many still unsure over whether he was the right man for the job. At Old Trafford, he truly proved what he was capable of, even if things had latterly turned sour at his former club AC Milan.

In the first half the Spaniards controlled the game well, full-backs Sergio Escudero and Gabriel Mercado pushing up to leave the two centre-backs guarding only Romelu Lukaku, both sides deploying different systems within their mirrored 4-2-3-1 formations.

Although the scoreline remained goalless at the break, there had been a stark contrast in the way the two sides had battled, the Sevilla midfield pairing of Ever Banega and Steven N’Zonzi in particular much more effective in winning the ball and distributing it effectively. The centre-backs had also worked efficiently when called upon, keeping any United attacks at bay.

Indeed, statistics show that the aforementioned midfield duo completed 82/89 and 84/94 passes respectively, the best from anyone on the pitch that night. Banega also created the highest number of chances with seven and completed all three of his crosses attempted and recovered the ball no less than 13 times, N’Zonzi following suit with 12. Centre-back Simon Kjaer completed all five of tackles attempted, highlighting that the result was no fluke.

If Montella had instilled a sense of workrate in his players in the first half, a second-half substitution was truly inspired. Striker Luis Muriel had worked tirelessly without any credible threat to United’s goal, and their defenders did not expect what happened next. In the 72nd minute the Italian tactician introduced Wissam Ben Yedder in place of Muriel, with devastating results.

The 27-year-old Frenchman almost scored with his first touch, going on to smash his first goal home just two minutes later, adding a second only five minutes after that to send Sevilla into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever.

“I have some very happy players who have got Sevilla in their soul and in their hearts,” said Montella after the match.

“All the players were fantastic, they played the game of their lives. Even though we didn't create chances in the first-half we put in a good performance. I felt we were in control possession-wise and we have them very little opportunity to get close to our goal. In the second half I'm pleased Ben Yedder turned things around and it was he who made the difference. He was decisive and finished well on two occasions.”

With AS Roma also having progressed through to the quarter-final stage, Montella joked that he would like to meet his friend and former team-mate Eusebio Di Francesco in the final stage. If he can get his tactics so perfect in the forthcoming rounds, who knows if that would be as far-fetched as people think?

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