Manchester United will be looking to hand Celta a sixth straight defeat and seal their spot in the finals of the Europa League when they host Eduardo Berizzo’s side at Old Trafford on Thursday.
It’s a game that has been termed as the most important one in Celta’s history so far, and given what is at stake for Manchester United, it might well be so for the Red Devils too.
The only way for United to realistically play Champions League football next season is to win the Europa League- they’re effectively out of the reckoning for fourth spot in the Premiership after a second string side sent out by Mourinho lost 2:0 to Arsenal over the weekend.
United are currently in sixth spot with three games to go, and are one point behind Arsenal (66 from 35 games), four behind Man City (69 from 35) and five behind Liverpool (70 from 36).
Like Mourinho, Celta coach Berizzo, a former Argentine defender, has chosen to prioritise the Europa League and chose to rest 9 first team regulars in his side’s last league outing against Malaga which, not surprisingly, ended in a 3:0 loss for the visitors at the Rosaleda.
Failure to win the Europa League would effectively mean United missing out of the Champions League for the second season running and would represent a catastrophic failure for Mourinho and the board after their spending over the summer.
However United’s 1:0 win in the first leg in Spain means that this effectively becomes an “avoid defeat” game for them, and it’s a situation very familiar to Mourinho, a master at “parking the bus”.
The good news for United fans- they’ve NEVER lost in a knockout European tie where they’ve won the first leg away from home. A review of BetOnline odds for the game has United at 1.12 to progress, with Celta being quoted at 6.00. United are unbeaten in their last nine Europa League games and Celta have lost their last four games against English opposition in Europe.
Celta will look to take inspiration from Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao, who toppled United in the Round of 16 (they won 5-3 on aggregate) en route to the 2012 final. John Guidetti (ex Man City) and Iago Aspas (ex Liverpool) will be spearheading the visitor’s attack, and both men have expressed the desire to get one over United for their old teams.
For United, Marouane Fellaini returns from suspension and so should Antonio Valencia, who sat out the Arsenal game. An important question for Mourinho will be his choice between the sticks- does he continue to play Sergio Romero or choose David de Gea, without a doubt the best keeper in the world, for this all important clash?
The likes of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young are all unavailable for United.
Celta’s scratchy recent form
Malaga 3:0 Celta
Celta 0:1 Man Utd
Celta 0:3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 2:1 Celta
Celta 0:1 Betis
Verdict: Star studded United, with the likes of Pogba and Rashford back, should get the result they need against Celta, especially given what is at stake for the Red Devils. Failure is not an option- expect Mou to give the hairdryer treatment in the dressing room if they fail to progress.