Big Midweek: Sevilla v Man Utd, Frank Lampard, West Ham, Scrapper Sadio Mane

Ian Watson
Bayern Munich striker Sadio Mane, Man Utd forward Antony and Chelsea manager Frank Lampard.

It’s another Big Midweek for Manchester United as Erik ten Hag’s patched-up side seeks to complete a job they failed to finish last week. Also: can Frank Lampard rouse Chelsea for Real?


Game to watch – Sevilla v Manchester United
It’s difficult to encapsulate how badly wrong the first leg went for United. The tie should have been over by half-time and the very least they should be taking to Spain is a two-goal advantage. But then anything that could go wrong, did.

Losing Lisandro Martinez for the season, shortly after Raphael Varane suffered his latest injury, was bad enough. But sandwiching Martinez’s injury was the concession of two goals that made Erik ten Hag despair.

The second, an own goal credited to Harry Maguire, was not directly the under-fire defender’s fault. It was typical of his luck that the ball bounced off his bulbous bonce into the corner David De Gea couldn’t cover. The defensive shape was all over the place but that’s what happens when you create your own chaos.

Sevilla’s first was worse from United’s perspective, the latest of Tyrell Malacia’s brain farts. This one, unlike plenty others before, was punished, and so too might Malacia be assuming Ten Hag opts to keep Diogo Dalot at left-back.

That’s where the Portuguese started and from where he scored against Forest on Sunday in a performance that will have eased a few jitters among the travelling support heading to Spain. United were, very, very good – no one more so than Bruno Fernandes. But United’s talisman, infuriatingly, is suspended for Thursday.

Forest were denied a shot on De Gea’s goal and Ten Hag’s makeshift back four needs to show similar resilience while the forward line has to demonstrate it can cope without their talisman.


Team to watch – West Ham
Before United bollocksed themselves last Thursday, West Ham also made life harder for themselves with a performance in Gent that lacked, well, pretty much everything.

They were fortunate to return to east London with their unbeaten record in the Europa Conference still intact after the Belgians attempted 20 shots on their goal in the quarter-final first leg. “I don’t think the performance was good,” admitted David Moyes. “There are so many aspects we didn’t do well. We didn’t build well, and a lot of the basics come into it. They put us under pressure and we didn’t do that particularly well. It looked as if they were more ‘on it’, that’s for sure.”

That’s how it looked on Sunday too before the Hammers roused themselves to p*ss in Arsenal’s punch. That fightback from 2-0 down has to serve as a catalyst for the rest of a season in which Moyes can’t really afford to tinker if he hopes to continue fighting on the European front as well as domestically against relegation.

He changed half of his side in Gent which did not work. Defensively they looked the kind of shaky they cannot afford to repeat while Gent goal-getter Gift Orban is looking to catch the eye of the many watching scouts.

The Irons have an opportunity here to start and continue on the front foot. Even if their results in the Premier League have been more positive of late, their performances have been rather less so. A second successive European semi-final should be incentive enough to turn it on against Gent without having to think about a big run of Premier League matches against Bournemouth, Liverpool, Palace, City and United.

Gent v West Ham - Declan Rice celebrates Danny Ings' goal

Manager to watch – Frank Lampard
Only the most nostalgic of Chelsea fans could argue that reappointing Lampard, even temporarily, wasn’t a p*ss-poor idea. But it’s going even worse than the rest of us expected for the interim boss.

Three games, three defeats so far for Lampard. The most costly, given the Champions League is all Chelsea have left to play for, was the defeat at the Bernabeu in midweek. But there was little shame in that. The 1-0 and 2-1 losses to Wolves and Brighton either side of the visit to Spain highlighted Chelsea’s shortcomings even more starkly.

Lampard’s explanations after both defeats focused on the very bare minimums expected at any level. First it was a lack of ‘aggression’; on Saturday it was worse: “All the basic parts of football – to fight, to run, all those things – we were short on.”

Lord knows Lampard wasn’t re-hired for his tactical nous so we have to assume Todd Boehly expected the club legend to motivate his expensively and haphazardly-assembled rabble. So far, so little.

Reports suggest Boehly took matters into his own hands on Saturday, entering the dressing room at full-time to tell the players that their plight is ’embarrassing’. Which must have left Lampard shuffling in the corner, staring at his shoes.

One would hope the prospect of facing Real Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final would rouse the players enough but it seems not with Chelsea. So what else has Lampard got in his locker to stir his squad enough to at least ease Boehly’s embarrassment?

Read more: Ranking Todd Boehly mistakes at Chelsea from All-Stars to Tuchel via Potter and Mudryk


Player to watch – Sadio Mane
If Leroy Sane was watching Mane more closely in the dressing room after the defeat to Manchester City last week, at least he might have ducked.

Quite what prompted Mane, apparently one of the game’s nicest blokes, to choose violence, we might never know for sure. Yes, Sane seems like a very punchable sort, but it has turned out to be an expensive blow for Mane, one that has cost him close to £300,000 and perhaps his long-term prospects at Bayern.

Mane will be available to Thomas Tuchel at the Allianz Arena as Bayern seek to chip away at City’s 3-0 lead from the first leg but it remains to be seen if he plays. Perhaps the scrap could galvanise Bayern and the former Liverpool striker to turn in an improved performance. That’s Pep Guardiola’s fear: “Sometimes you need conflict to make the team more together, I am pretty sure of that. It is not a weak point, It will be a strong point against us.”

Tuchel needs to hope so because Bayern failed to lay a glove on City at the Etihad. And the signs at the weekend, when Mane served a club-imposed suspension, were not great in a 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim.


EFL game to watch – Blackburn v Coventry
With a full Championship programme on Tuesday and Wednesday, but seven of the dozen fixtures between sides separated by at least half of the table, we’re looking at the closest clash, with sixth-placed Rovers hosting the seventh-placed Sky Blues on Wednesday evening.

The hosts are in something of a rut having not won for over a month. They followed their FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Sheffield United with a couple of defeats and two draws, most recently at home to Hull on Saturday evening.

Coventry haven’t been much better of late. Their 3-0 win over QPR on Saturday followed a couple of draws and a home hammering at the hand of Stoke. Both sides appear to be feeling the pressure of a play-off race that is arse-squeakingly tight – only four points separate six teams from Millwall in fifth and Norwich in tenth. Even below the Canaries, West Brom and Watford could yet mount a late charge with five games to go.

Blackburn 1-1 Coventry kicks off at 7;45pm.