Manchester United qualified to the final of the Europa League on an aggreggate score of 2-1 against Celta de Vigo.
The Red Devils came into this match with a decent 1-0 lead for the first leg. In the initial few minutes, United looked rattled as Celta Vigo were on the prowl to cause an early upset. However, Marouane Fellaini’s header allowed United to establish more control over the visitors.
Celta, however, still needed two more goals to gain an advantageous position in the tie, and even got close to doing so as Facundo Roncaglia scored an equaliser which led to a nail-biting couple of final minutes.
Luckily enough for the hosts, United finished in typical Old Trafford style (a draw), but Rashford’s timely goal in the first leg saved Mourinho and his men.
Gamble or no gamble, Mourinho did prioritise the Europa League over the Premier League, but their performances did not live up to that. Last night, we all got to see a very diligent Manchester United side, but was it really good enough?
Meanwhile, Eric Bailly and Roncaglia were sent off with red cards after an ugly brawl as United pressed on to restrict the visitors from scoring another goal. There was almost another cause for worry as Celta striker John Guidetti tried to net another one, but he failed to see it all the way in.
That was golden chance wasted for the Spanish club, but for Manchester United, it meant they were going to Stockholm on May 24th.
This victory will take Manchester United closer to their first Europa League cup, and the coveted Champions League. Now, they need to prepare to face Ajax who beat Lyon in the other semi-final, and that will be an uphill task.
Here’s a look at the stars, duds and overall impact of this barely-there performance by Manchester United:
Marouane Fellaini has become an important figure under Mourinho, who has always believed in the Belgian midfielder. And last night, Fellaini scored the crucial first-half goal against Celta Vigo, which helped United stay in control.
In fact, last night’s goal was his third in semifinals for United. Fellaini might not have been the most elegant last night, but he made up for all that with his efficiency. He covered a lot of ground at Old Trafford, and provided support in all the areas.
The midfielder was clearly one of the best against Celta Vigo, but as the final with Ajax looms ahead, Mourinho will need to make a tough choice between choosing Fellaini or Carrick. More often than not, Fellaini gets picked ahead of Carrick to play alongside Herrera, which culminates in United losing control over the midfield.
This was evident last night as the Spanish club started dominating possession and created more chances than they should’ve at Old Trafford.
It was only because of his goal in the first leg that United had better chances of winning the second leg. And last night, he created an assist, which was eventually headed into the goal by Fellaini.
He tried to drive Manchester United forward at every opportunity and at just 19 years of age, Rashford has established himself as one of the most integral strikers of the Red Devils, especially during big games.
While the club has been defensively sound, the attack was in poor shape. Even before the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were signed, it was Rashford who took up the mantle of the dying United attack and gave it a better shape.
Against Celta Vigo last night, he was constantly inventive with his touch and movement. The assist which he provided was a superb cross – one that any elite winger would’ve been proud to see. As preparations begin to face Ajax, Rashford is one name that will feature on the list for sure.
Eric Bailly is easily one of United’s best defenders at this point. He should’ve been more aware of the amount of responsibility on him before going ahead and picking up a late red card. With most of United’s defenders injured, Bailly has also been sidelined now for the crucial final against Ajax.
The saddest part was that Bailly actually played a good game yesterday, but he squandered all of that away. He kept stepping forward smartly to repel any trouble as soon as it began in the midfield, and did not allow it to cross that area.
Bailly was sent off for placing his hand on the throat of a Celta Vigo opponent, which looked nasty and even sent the Old Trafford crowd into shock. Antonio Valencia was lucky to not land a red card for the infamous shove which followed.
Now, it will be tougher for Mourinho to deploy his defenders, given how a majority of them have been sidelined due to various reasons. The biggest disappointment, however, will be the exclusion of Eric Bailly in a final of such great magnitude.
United did progress 2-1 on the basis of aggregate goals, but towards the final few minutes, it did seem like Celta were bordering on the lines of causing a mighty upset. They had a late splurge, and it was John Guidetti who carried the hopes of several Spanish fans as he tried to net a goal.
Unfortunately for him and Celta Vigo, it was an opportunity wasted. His tears spoke a lot of how he felt as he walked off-field after the final whistle.
For a club like Celta Vigo, it is a huge thing to even qualify for a match like this. Not only did they qualify, they also put up a tough fight in both legs of the fixture, against a team with a glorious and illustrious past. Thus, to waste an easy chance in a match like that, will linger on in Guidetti’s mind for considerable time.
In fact, Guidetti had two good chances to score – the second being a header when he was unmarked. If only he had taken up those chances, then how different things would’ve been right now.
Analysis of the Impact
Mourinho’s reputation at stake
Mourinho is desperate to secure a Europa League win in his debut season for Manchester United since that will also guarantee a Champions League spot, and somewhat justify the club’s below-average performance in the Premier League.
They will have to play Ajax, who edged out Lyon 5-4 on aggregate goals.
Before Mourinho took charge, expectations were high that he would bring an end to the gloom that surrounded Manchester United ever since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. The club finished seventh, fourth and fifth in the seasons that followed, and once Mourinho arrived, expectations rose almost instantly.
Ten months later, however, the club is still where it was. The Portuguese manager seems to have given up on securing a top-four Premier League spot, and instead focused all of his attention onto the Europa League.
With the return leg against Celta taking priority in his mind, Mourinho made eight changes for Sunday’s 2-0 defeat against Arsenal, which did draw a lot of criticism.
However, all these decisions and tactics will be justifiable only if they can beat Ajax and claim the Europa League trophy, else the whole season would be chalked down as a failure – a term Mourinho is not too associated with in the past and is unlikely to want to be associated with now.