MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United fans had just two days to savour their win over arch-rivals Liverpool before Spain’s Sevilla brought them back down to earth, eliminating them from the Champions League on Tuesday.
The 2-1 win by Vincenzo Montella’s side, who are in fifth place in La Liga and struggling to qualify for next year’s competition, cuts United’s European campaign short but they only had themselves to blame.
It was a disjointed display lacking conviction at times and strikingly different from the combative performance shown against Liverpool.
Mourinho’s decision to change the team which played with great discipline and desire in the 2-1 Premier League win over Liverpool on Saturday was puzzling, especially given the alterations it forced across the field.
Marcus Rashford, so brilliant on the left with his two goals in the North West derby, was moved to the right flank while Alexis Sanchez, who had looked promising playing just behind Romelu Lukaku, was switched back to the left wing.
Scott McTominay, a calm defensive midfield presence against Liverpool was left out to make way for Marouane Fellaini, who only returned from injury last week and Juan Mata made way for Jesse Lingard.
Whatever the motivation for the changes, whether tactical or rotation for freshness, the line-up simply did not work.
Chilean Sanchez has yet to settle in at Old Trafford following his January move from Arsenal and he appears to be lacking confidence and unsure of his role.
Rashford showed moments of his devastating acceleration and directness but he is more effective when cutting in from the left and Lingard’s running straight at the Sevilla defence produced little other than lost possession.
With Nemanja Matic alone in the defensive midfield role, Fellaini was all over the midfield in his usual aggressive fashion but provided little composure or balance.
While Sevilla certainly did not sparkle, until the two stunning late goals from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder won the game, they had the calmness in midfield that was lacking from United’s display.
Former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder Steven N’Zonzi was a cool and accomplished presence in the centre of the field while Ever Banega was inventive in his playmaker role.
Mourinho accepted his team had to improve in all areas to progress further next season but was not in the mood to criticise his team.
“We had good periods, we didn’t have great control over the game, but I can’t say there was anything wrong with my players and their intention to play,” he said.
“That’s football, we lost, but tomorrow is another day and Saturday is another match.”
Progress may be being made by Mourinho but it is mid-March and his team are out of the race for the Premier League title, where they trail Manchester City by 16 points, and of Europe.
Suddenly the FA Cup, where United face Brighton in their quarter-final at Old Trafford on Saturday, takes on a little more significance.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury