By John Ryan
- Manchester United are two games away from a European final
- Jones, Smalling, Bailly and Pogba all in contention after injuries
It’s not quite the feverish excitement of 2008 and eliminating giants Barcelona from the Champions League. But this semi-final could be one that defines Jose Mourinho’s success at Old Trafford.
As we near the end of what has been a trying season Manchester United are within touching distance of another European final. Celta Vigo stand between United and the final.
Celta have never won the La Liga title, not the Copa Del Rey and over the last fourteen seasons they have been relegated twice.
During the 2013-2014 season current Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique was their manager, leading them to a ninth place finish.
Celta have also beaten Liverpool in the 1999 UEFA Cup and earned the nickname ‘EuroCelta’ for their exploits in European competition at the turn of the century. As with almost every game in this competition this season, Mourinho’s men are facing another huge banana skin.
Injuries and Manchester United have been mentioned in thousands of articles in recent weeks. On Wednesday it emerged that both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were close to returning for the trip to Spain.
Neither has played for the club since March 19th due to injury so their match fitness will really be in doubt.
Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly have also trained ahead of this crunch tie and will be welcomed by their manager with open arms.
Marouane Fellaini is also available despite a domestic suspension but after his red card against Manchester City he is probably not who the fans want to see starting.
In attack Mourinho still has a vast array of potential at his disposal with Rashford, Martial, Mkhitaryan & Rooney all available to play.
Europa League Is Number One Priority For Celta Vigo
Celta Vigo currently lie eleventh in La Liga and were eliminated in the Copa Del Rey at the semi final stage, despite knocking out Real Madrid in the previous round.
In the Europa League to date they have seen off Dutch, Greek, Belgian, Ukrainian and Russian opposition so a side from the English top flight may be seen as a step up in class.
In their Europa games at the Estadio Balaidos they have scored ten goals in six games however their scoring feats in La Liga games there are more impressive.
They have scored three or more goals there in six games this season most notably a 4-3 win over Barcelona and if they score the first goal on Thursday night they could go for the throat and look to kill off the tie in the first leg.
Former Liverpool player Iago Aspas has hit twenty five goals for them this season however no other player has made it to double figures for them yet.
Former Manchester United player Giuseppe Rossi has found the net for them six times with players like John Guidetti, Pione Sisto and Daniel Wass have shared among their goals also.
Celta have lost their last three home games in La Liga without scoring a goal which begs the question were they putting all their efforts into winning this competition?
Will Mourinho Go For The Win?
Mourinho could shock everyone on Thursday night and go for a win on Spanish soil. If he plays Rashford and Lingard up front and looks to stretch the Celta rear guard then there are goals there for United.
Celta have conceded eighty two goals this season in all competitions and this porous defence can be exploited to United’s gain.
If the manager refrains from starting Fellaini then United can play the game on the front foot and take the game to Celta.
Mourinho has shown a capacity to surprise this season most notably against Chelsea and with the level of injuries he may gamble and view attack as the best form of defence on Thursday.
Should United score first then we can expect them to play on the counter attack for most of the night and soak up the pressure as they have done with twenty five clean sheets this season.
Fifty one years ago Matt Busby took his Manchester United side to the mighty Benfica and tore the home side to shreds.
While Busby had superior players at his disposal then in comparison to what Mourinho has now he showed what a lack of fear can do. Should Jose take the same approach there is a huge opportunity for Manchester United to reach the Europa League Final.
He has shown a lot of glimpse this season that he is ready to take on the mantle of Busby and Ferguson and how his team plays on Thursday night could set him up for a very bright future at Old Trafford.
Verdict: Celta Vigo 1-3 Manchester United