Celta plan famous upset of exhausted UnitedArchive
MADRID: An injury crisis, coupled with an intense schedule, is eroding Manchester United’s status as favourites to win the Europa League.
United, England’s most decorated club, are the standout name on the list of semi-finalists that also contains Celta Vigo, Olympique Lyonnais and Ajax Amsterdam.
Yet manager Jose Mourinho’s ambitious attempts to mount an assault on every competition this season domestic and European is starting to backfire and United are limping into ther first leg against Celta in Spain on Thursday.
On Sunday, defenders Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw joined an injury list that already included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Four of those are centre-backs, leaving Mourinho without a fit, recognised senior central defender.
Fatigue is also setting in with United having played 57 games already this season, nine in April alone — a schedule which the Portuguese manager described as “not human” after another disappointing 1-1 home draw in the Premier League against 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 the Wednesday and we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday. Before that, we play Southampton away a few days before, so we would be playing the final with disastrous consequences.”
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 on Thursday. “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.”
Playing in their first European semi-final, Celta are barely known outside Spain but have established itself at home as one of La Liga’s most attractive teams.
“I think with the mentality we’ve built here, nothing is impossible,” Guidetti said. “We may be a small club and a team that others don’t take much notice of, but we also know how good we are.
“That’s why we’ve beaten Barcelona two years in a row. We knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, we’ve beaten Atletico Madrid. We’ve shown that we are a good team.”
United are looking to join an elite group of clubs who have won the Champions League (formerly European Cup), the European Cup Winners Cup, and the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup).
Ajax, who face Olympique Lyon in the other semi-final, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Juventus are the other sides who have achieved the feat.
And Spaniard Juan Mata warned his team-mates that seeing off Celta will not be easy.
“They are one of the teams that play better football in Spain, and not only this season,” Mata said. “Being back home in Spain will be special for me but difficult at the same time. We must perform at our best in order to beat them.”
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2017