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Fans arriving at Old Trafford before the Champions League match against Sevilla.

Opinion: United's recovery period has to be swift

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Manchester United must not allow the huge disappointment of the Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla to fester.

Manager Jose Mourinho was right. There is no time to wallow in self-pity. The Reds and fans do not want to wake up next Sunday morning with another post mortem to contemplate and the season as good as over, if there is a hangover against Brighton in the FA Cup quarter final on Saturday night.

Tuesday evening was a major shock considering how Liverpool had been destroyed just three days earlier. Nobody saw Sevilla’s 2-1 win coming. But it did and now the recovery period has to be swift.

United’s so-called ‘bouncebackability’ has been lauded in the past. That aptitude to be able to compartmentalise a setback within hours and move on to putting it right has served the Reds well down the years. But it hasn’t always been the case and there are warning signs in the history books.

Goals: United 1 Sevilla 2Video

The two European knockouts highlighted by Mourinho in his post-match press conference were cases in point. In 2004, he was the relatively unknown upstart who masterminded Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s exit in the last 16 of the Champions League when he was at Porto. It was a stunner and the last-minute goal that condemned the Reds to defeat was tough to swallow.

Days later, shell-shocked, United were on the end of a heavy 4-1 beating in the Manchester derby at City. Fergie’s title-holders lost three more league games after that, as the league battle petered out and Arsenal’s Invincibles walked off with the championship.

The good news was that the Gunners were beaten in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park thanks to a Paul Scholes goal, to set up a Millennium Stadium final in Cardiff against Millwall. United won 3-0 that day and crucially retrieved some silverware from the season.
Jose Mourinho says

"Of course, everybody is sad and I told the players in the dressing room: I’m happy with this sadness."

The other occasion Mourinho highlighted on Tuesday was in 2013 when his Real Madrid side benefited from the controversial Nani red card, to win at Old Trafford and wreck Fergie’s dreams of a Champions League finale that would have brought down the curtain on his career.

United, of course, were by that time comfortably striding towards the title and that was not derailed by the disappointment (and injustice) of the Champions League exit. However, the potential for a Wembley FA Cup final was shattered in the wake of Real’s win: the Reds were back at Old Trafford five days after the European exit to play Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

United looked to have got over the Champions League misery and were 2-0 up against interim boss Rafa Benitez’s side. But Chelsea fought back to draw 2-2 and won the replay at Old Trafford. The possibility of Sir Alex claiming another domestic double in his final season was derailed.
 
Romelu Lukaku says

"We know we have a lot of quality in the team and we didn't show it. We have to bounce back. We have one trophy to chase and that is the FA Cup."

Such history shows us that European upsets can be damaging if the shattering disappointment lingers on. Chris Hughton’s Brighton will have been apprehensive about facing United, having witnessed the tearing apart of Liverpool, yet now they will have been given a glimmer of hope.

United must respond by extinguishing that optimism and secure a place at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals. Sir Alex always maintained that winning a trophy every season, to keep that winning momentum going, was absolutely vital for the club and that remains a possibility this campaign.

Despite the defeat to Sevilla, Mourinho remains in a very good position to deliver another piece of silverware, adding to the EFL Cup and Europa League trophies from last season. 

More than anybody, he knows that winning habit must not falter.

The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.