Anxiety as Celta Vigo plot Man Utd Europa exit
Jose Mourinho must patch up an injury-ravaged Manchester United squad as the English side’s quest for Europa League glory faces its stiffest test yet with a semi-final, first leg trip to Celta Vigo on Thursday.
The Portuguese manager described United’s nine-match April schedule as “not human” after another disappointing 1-1 home draw in the Premier League against relegation-threatened Swansea City on Sunday.
His side’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, though, with six more games to come over the next 19 days in a bid to seal Champions League qualification either by winning the Europa League or squeezing into the top four of the Premier League.
“If we beat Celta, we have the final and, in this moment, it is obviously hypothetical,” Mourinho told the United website.
“The Europa League final is on Wednesday and we play against Crystal Palace on Sunday. Before that, we play Southampton away a few days before, so we would be playing the final with disastrous consequences.”
The English giants are without top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to cruciate ligament damage.
Meanwhile, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly added to United’s defensive woes as they join Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marco Rojo on the sidelines, meaning Mourinho will need to look for emergency solutions at centre-back.
Mourinho has been critical of Jones and Smalling’s unwillingness to play through the pain barrier and doesn’t expect them to rush back meaning right-back Matteo Darmian, midfielder Michael Carrick or 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe could deputise at the heart of the defence.
“That’s my personal opinion, I don’t think they will (be fit) but I know the players I choose will give everything. It doesn’t matter if I go with Darmian or Carrick or Axel, I trust the boys.”
The visitors will have Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini back available, whilst Juan Mata could make his comeback from groin surgery after being an unused substitute against Swansea.
Celta, by contrast, have had the luxury of resting up Eduardo Berizzo’s preferred XI for the majority of their recent La Liga games as the Galicians concentrate on trying to win a first ever major trophy.
“We also know what’s at stake – not only that you win the Europa League, which is huge, but you can also win a place in the Champions League,” Celta striker John Guidetti told UEFA.com.
“You have dreams about that.”
And the former Manchester City man would revel in ending United’s chances of winning the Europa League for the first time.
“As they say “Manchester is blue” and that’s how it will be when we visit there as well, because we are Celta Vigo and we will try to keep the city blue.”
Former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas is Celta’s main threat, though, as he’s struck 24 times this season.
The other semi-final first leg takes place on Wednesday in Amsterdam as Ajax look to rekindle former European glories against Lyon.
Ajax haven’t reached a European final since the vintage of the likes of Edwin Van der Sar, Edgar Davids and Jari Litmanen lost the 1996 Champions League final to Juventus on penalties.
However, a new generation of wonder kids now threatens to take Europe by storm, including 17-year-old Justin Kluivert, son of Ajax legend Patrick.
“It’s what Ajax stands for. We give young players dreams and opportunities,” said Van der Sar, now the club’s general director.
Lyon have injury troubles as they look to reach a first ever European final.
Top scorer Alexandre Lacazette and French international Corentin Tolisso have travelled with the squad, but are both doubtful.Punch