United are going to Stockholm! Everyone who isn’t a United fan is piping up about scraping through this semi-final against a mediocre Spanish side, but they’re not in a European Final, so who cares? United booked a place in the EUFA Europa League final showdown against the youthful talent of Ajax on May 24th at the Friends Arena.
Mourinho named an unchanged side from the 1-0 first-leg win in Spain, as the Red Devils looked to extend their European unbeaten home run to 18 games. Celta started the livelier of the two sides, keeping possession much better and moving the ball at pace to try and stretch the United back line. When the Reds did have the ball, there were some moments of magic from Pogba in the middle of the park along with the direct running of Rashford in behind the centre-halves. In all honesty, Celta Vigo were probably the better team throughout the game, but United’s defence held strong, helped by a solid performance from Europa League regular Sergio Romero in goal. The possession stat was firmly in Vigo’s favour (67% to United’s 33%) and the number of shots were similarly in the favour of the Spaniards (16 to 11).
It all looked a bit comfortable for the Reds up until the 85th minute after Fellaini had headed home Rashford’s delightful cross for the opener in the first half. However, Vigo’s pressure paid off and the visitors pulled a goal back in the tie through Roncaglia with a glancing header to set up a fiery finish. Tempers boiled over moments later and following some handbags and rag doll-like theatrics from Guidetti, United defender Eric Bailly and goalscorer Roncaglia were both shown straight reds. As disgusting as the Vigo players’ actions were to throw himself to the ground haplessly, it was not surprising. The Celta players had acted childishly throughout the game. Crowding around the referee after every free-kick begging for cards to be shown to the United players as well as questionable rolls and hand gestures towards officials for every decision that didn’t go their way.
The drama continued into the tunnel between the two players and the coaching staff but United showed their big-game experience and saw out the 1-1 draw which progressed them into the final. Guidetti, who’s promised pre-game that he would make sure Manchester was blue after the final whistle, missed another absolute sitter in the last seconds which would have sent them through, his facial expression and image of nearly every player falling to the floor in disbelief and despair did make me smile. I am normally not one to enjoy teams losing after playing so well and giving everything in the game. However, their behaviour towards the officials was disgraceful and by the final whistle, I had no sympathy or respect for their players.
Job done for United. It was nothing more than that, and it didn’t need to be. It is irrelevant how we have reached the final, just that we did. Man of the match for me was a toss up between Bailly and Mkhitaryan. Bailly was excellent, he read the game superbly and made countless interceptions. Whereas Mkhitaryan was direct, kept the ball well and gave much-needed rest to the defence with his link up play. My favourite moment of the night, apart from progressing to the final, was Mourinho’s interaction with the crowd as he was approaching the tunnel. He picked up a scarf that was thrown onto the pitch, began to swirl it around and fist pumped with an immense passion. That got the crowd going. It was an act of passion towards the win and club the fans loved to see.