Manchester United’s Europa League dreams went up in smoke as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men lost a third semi-final of the season despite dominating large parts of a tense clash with Sevilla.
A promising first full season in the Old Trafford hot-seat ends without silverware for the Norwegian, whose side wasted a glut of chances in Sunday’s Stadion Koln showdown and were made to pay for lax defending.
Bruno Fernandes’ spot-kick had United dreaming of the August 21 finale, only for former Liverpool man Suso to level and ex-Newcastle striker Luuk de Jong to secure Europa League kings Sevilla a 2-1 comeback win in a pulsating clash.
United’s despair was clear at the final whistle and they will be kicking themselves for a long time to come, having let this semi-final go the same way as their FA Cup and Carabao Cup campaigns.
Fernandes fired United ahead just nine minutes in from their 22nd penalty of the season but Suso levelled after catching the defence napping in a first half in which Diego Carlos could have seen red and conceded another penalty.
United made a blistering start to the second period but goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, whose penalty save was key in the quarter-final win against Wolves, made a string of superb saves to keep his side in the tie.
It provided Sevilla with the platform to grab victory and secure a place in the Cologne final, with substitute De Jong all too easily allowed to turn home Jesus Navas’ cross to secure a shot at glory against Inter Milan or Shakhtar Donetsk.
It had all started so well for Solskjaer’s side, who won an early penalty just like Wolves had in Tuesday’s quarter-final.
Carlos was again the guilty party as he ploughed into Marcus Rashford, but Fernandes, unlike against Raul Jimenez, beat Bounou with a thumping effort into the top left-hand corner.
It was an excellent start that Fred attempted to add to, before David De Gea – given the nod instead of Sergio Romero in the United goal – denied Lucas Ocampos.
Sevilla were being backed by a small but rowdy contingent, with United coach Michael Carrick calling for his players to keep their cool after Brandon Williams was booked.
Carlos followed him into the notebook and could count himself fortunate not to be leaving the field, having avoided an earlier yellow card for giving away the penalty.
United were frustrated by several decisions and fumed with officials after Sevilla were wrongly awarded what proved to be a costly thrown-in. Play continued and Sergio Reguilon crossed to the far post, where Suso caught Williams napping to level in the 26th minute.
United settled after that setback, with Anthony Martial and Rashford having efforts before Fernandes was barged to the deck by Carlos without a penalty being awarded.
There were no more first-half goals but plenty of tension as Solskjaer had a pop at Julen Lopetegui as the Sevilla coach and his players continued to make the most of any contact.
United were pumped up when play resumed and should have gone ahead but Bounou single-handedly denied them.
Having spread himself well to thwart Mason Greenwood, the goalkeeper soon produced a fine save when the ball fell for Martial at the far post.
Rashford’s follow-up was blocked and Martial was stopped after exquisite footwork, with a flying block frustrating Fernandes.
The Sevilla shot-stopper then denied Martial in two one-on-one scenarios during a maddening and ultimately game-changing period for United.
There was a nervy moment in the 73rd minute when Joan Jordan’s rifled free-kick hit Fernandes’ elbow as he turned to block it – but nothing was given after a lengthy VAR review.
United’s young side were now on the back foot and were caught out in the 78th minute.
Williams did not deal with Navas and the former Manchester City man swung in a cross that De Jong peeled away from Aaron Wan-Bissaka and behind Victor Lindelof to turn home.
The Sevilla camp went wild and provided vocal support throughout the closing stages, with their side digging deep to secure victory against their exhausted opponents.