Manchester United Scores Four Goals, Draws 2-2
10:37 AM EDT on April 14, 2023
All things considered, Manchester United is having a pretty good season. Though the club did lose to its rivals of Liverpool by an embarrassing scoreline of 7-0 just last month, the Red Devils are somewhat comfortably in fourth place in the Premier League, and have shown signs of life under new manager Erik ten Hag. And though United was shunned off to the Europa League thanks to its sixth place finish in 2021-2022, the club has been chugging along in the second tier of European competition, finishing second in its group to Real Sociedad before beating Barcelona and Real Betis in back-to-back knockout ties.
This set up yet another Spanish showdown, as United hosted Sevilla in the first leg of the quarter-finals on Thursday, a first leg that looked to be more of the same for the English side, thanks to a seven-minute brace from Bayern Munich loanee Marcel Sabitzer. In the 14th minute, the Austrian finessed a shot into the goal following some nice movement from United, particularly from Anthony Martial:
In the 21st, Sabitzer latched onto a beautiful pass from Martial to finish off a counter-attack that doubled United's lead before anyone had a second to really soak in the 1-0:
So far, so good! Though United should finish solidly in the top four and qualify for next year's Champions League based off domestic league play—and therefore won't need to win the Europa League to back into that premier, money-making tournament—it would still be a nice return to form for the club to win a big continental trophy in ten Hag's first season at the helm. With an early 2-0 lead, United should have been able to see out the tie, though it needed only to look at Liverpool's collapse from 2-0 up against Real Madrid to see how fast a European tie can go south.
Though it wasn't as fast or as violent as that Liverpool collapse, United's own shambolic closing out of Thursday's game came all the same. As a defender, there are few things more demoralizing than creating an own goal, and doubly so when the defender does nothing wrong; a shot careens off an awkward body part and suddenly everything goes to shit. This, quite hilariously, happened twice to United in eight minutes at the end of Thursday's match.
In the 84th minute, Jesús Navas latched on to a long ball into the box, close to the touchline. United defender Tyrell Malacia could have maybe interrupted that pass, but once Navas received it, the 23-year-old left back did what he is trained to do, coming to the Spaniard and cutting off any passing lanes to the center of the box. Unfortunately for Malacia and United, Navas tried the cutback anyway and it deflected off the youngster and past David De Gea from a silly angle:
OK, fine, that happens. Malacia will feel hard done by the deflection, though he could have done better on the initial ball. Still, though, United was still in control of the tie even at 2-1. Up until the 92nd minute, that is. Then, it was time for Harry Maguire and Harry Maguire's extremely large head to take up a role in this farce.
Lucas Ocampos, who lasered in the ball to Navas for the first own goal, once again lobbed a great ball into the box, and Youssef En-Nesyri's header zeroed in on Maguire's face, which redirected it just enough to bounce slowly into the goal, away from De Gea. (I love making fun of De Gea more than most people, but he wasn't really at fault for either goal. Poor guy is always snakebitten in the Europa League.) Just like that, with two freak deflections, a 2-0 coast became a 2-2 nightmare.
While credit must go to Sevilla for not collapsing after the Sabitzer one-two, United really should have won this tie comfortably as the better club. Sevilla is mired in its worst La Liga season in some time, currently sitting in 13th place and closer to last-place Elche than to first-place Barcelona. United's own goal bonanza shouldn't have too much of a final say on this tie, though it's much harder to go into the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán deadlocked than with a 2-0 lead.
Still, though, sometimes these things just happen, and they happen twice in a row. Maguire is no one's idea of a good center back in 2023, but the only thing that one can blame him for on that second goal is having a massive noggin, which is part of what has made him a valuable player in the past anyway. Malacia's was even more unlucky, as Navas wasn't even shooting on goal.
The randomness of own goals is one to be respected, but not feared. United played well on Thursday, controlling most of the possession and out-shooting Sevilla. Sabitzer probably has solidified his place in this United lineup, and his loan move should be made permanent this summer, at around €20 million, give or take. Even if United were to falter away at Sevilla in the second leg, this campaign has been both a success in the moment and a building block for next season. It's still pretty wild to see two own goals in such quick succession, though, and United will likely rue the misfortune of its defenders, who played well for all but a few seconds of a 90-minute tie, if it were to lose this tie. How quickly things can turn even for the best-positioned of sides.
Correction (11:54 a.m.): Sabitzer's loan move does not have a buy option. This has been corrected above.