Manchester United set up an Europa League final date with Ajax after barely holding Celta Vigo to a 1-1 draw in the second leg of their semifinal on Thursday, progressing 2-1 on aggregate.
After Marcus Rashford had scored the winner in the away leg last week, Jose Mourinho’s men were heavy favourites to reach the final in Stockholm and, despite taking the lead fairly early via Maruoane Fellaini, never really looked to be in the ascendancy.
Mourinho kept the same starting XI which had won in Spain, with Rashford leading the line in injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence.
Celta had a warning shot fired in the third minute itself, when Iago Aspas cut in from the right and let fly only to find Sergio Romero equal to the task.
After a nervy opening period, the Red Devils began to grow into the game, beginning to see more of the ball and then took the lead via their burly Belgian in the 17th minute. Rashford sent in a brilliant cross at the far post for Fellaini to head home but considering Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez was in the right position to save the header, the home side were thankful to the Spaniard’s mistake.
After the goal, it was largely one-way traffic as the Spanish side knew they needed to score a minimum of two goals to progress and kept harrying their fancied opponents for every ball.
Celta dominated possession and were bright in attack with Pione Sisto making life uncomfortable for Antonio Valencia on the wing. The Danish winger sent in a dangerous cross for Daniel Wass which really should have been on target, but his compatriot somehow contrived to send his header wide of Sergio Romero’s goal.
The second began in the same vein as the first, with Celta on the front foot but it would be United who got the first real chance on goal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first-time shot looked destined for the back of the net but some how Alvarez got a hand to tip it over the bar.
John Guidetti, the former Manchester City striker, missed a good chance to equalise after Sisto had set him up for a volley inside the box but the Swede’s shot was off target.
Rashford then created a chance out of nowhere for himself, beating two Celta players on the edge of the box but his left-footed shot was saved by Alvarez.
Guidetti missed his second gilt-edged chance on the night, to give United a reprieve, sending an unmarked header wide of goal as Celta continued to amp up the pressure.
They finally got the goal they deserved, in the 85th minute as centre-back Facundo Ronaglia headed home substitute Theo Bongonda’s cross with United switching off when Celta took a short-corner to set up a nervy final per
Things got ugly three minutes later, when incensed United players clashed with their opponents after Ander Herrera had been fouled near the halfway line. Eric Bailly pushed Guidetti in the face and the Swede promptly went down and Ronaglia came running across to join the melee which saw plenty of players from both sides involved.
Both centre-backs were shown straight reds for their troubles which means the Ivorian will miss the final against Ajax in Stockholm.
Considering United are not likely to finish in the top-four in the English Premier League, they will give it their all to beat their youthful Dutch opponents, who themselves survived a bit of a scare against Lyon. Ajax had thrashed Lyon 4-1 in the first leg but the French side came back strongly in the return leg to win 3-1, with the aggregate score reading 5-4 in Ajax’s favour in the end.