How the Narratives of David de Gea, Paul Pogba & Anthony Martial Have Changed Since They Last Met Sevilla

Aug 16, 2020, 1:59 PM GMT+1
Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba
The fortunes of Paul Pogba and Manchester United have both significantly changed in the past two and a half years | Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

The time between March 2020 and present day feels as though it has encompassed eons.

But if we spool the tape back two years further, we come across Manchester United's previous meeting with Sevilla - their semi-final opponents in this season's new-look, new normal Europa League.

Back in those pre-pandemic days of 2018, José Mourinho's United crashed out of the Champions League last 16 at the hands of their Spanish opponents. After a stale 0-0 draw in Andalusia, Sevilla claimed a surprise 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.

There has been plenty of upheaval for both sides since that brisk Tuesday evening (three of United's starting XI now play for Inter). However, perhaps the more drastic contrast revolves around the perception of a Manchester United trio which have remained.

The swirling vortex of public opinion surrounding modern day football means that the widespread standing of a player can be glorified or torn down by one nutmeg meme. David de Gea, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial enjoyed and endured differing evenings across those two legs against Sevilla, yet a couple of seasons on go into Sunday's semi-final in remarkably contrasting circumstances.

1. David de Gea

The ball had scarcely fizzed off Luis Muriel's forehead before it was spinning into the crowd behind the goal. In the split second between these two events, De Gea had fired out a meaty paw to prevent the point-blank effort.

This was the second breathtaking stop the Spain international produced as he proved instrumental to United's clean sheet in the first leg. This remarkable performance was one of many De Gea strung together throughout the 2017/18 campaign.

That season he kept a league-high 18 Premier League sheets and won his fourth Manchester United Player of the Year award in five years.

Yet, going into the next meeting with Sevilla, De Gea's reputation has plummeted after a series of increasingly common and calamitous errors.

Playing behind a defence which is positioned much higher up the pitch than Mourinho's deep block may have compounded a crisis of confidence. But whatever the root of this collapse may be, the shocking reality is that De Gea isn't even guaranteed to start the semi-final.

2. Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba, Gabriel Mercado, Pablo Sarabia
Paul Pogba struggled to impose himself on Sevilla in either meeting two years ago | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Pogba enjoyed a decent 2017/18 campaign overall, but the tensions between the Frenchman and his former manager had begun to surface across these two legs.

Having failed to complete 90 minutes in United's five previous games - with a mysterious illness offered as an excuse by Mourinho - the extent of Pogba's involvement was a major doubt. The morning before the first match, Mourinho invited the media to watch part of training to give them an 'objective view' of his midfielder's fitness.

That summer's World Cup winner started both games on the bench and failed to exert any significant influence in either appearance, with Sevilla particularly dominating midfield in the second leg.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Pogba had again missed a sizeable chunk of the season with a series of vague complaints. However, since the resumption, the 27-year-old has looked refreshed and actually happy to be pulling on a red shirt, with even talks of a contract extension thought to be underway.

3. Anthony Martial

Anthony Martial, Gabriel Mercado
Anthony Martial was a second-half substitute in both ties against Sevilla | Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

The lack of a permanent smile plastered on Martial's face is often and unfairly used to criticise the Frenchman. Yet, he could be excused for projecting an outwardly sullen demeanour after being afforded less than 25 minutes of playing time across both legs.

Under Mourinho, the mercurial forward spent the vast majority of the time he did get on the field out on the flanks (of his 68 starts under the Portuguese manager, only eight were as a central striker).

Now, having been reinstated as the side's number nine by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - both literally and tactically - Martial goes into Sunday's clash as the team's top scorer.

There have even been one or two hints of a grin as the oft poker-faced Martial can barely contain his satisfaction with the way the fickle fortunes of football have smiled upon him.