Manchester United reach First Europa League Final in Club’s History
Jose Mourinho made his managerial name by winning the Uefa Cup and now he is one game away from repeating the feat.
Lifting the Europa League as the Uefa Cup is now called and bringing Champions League football back to Old Trafford is the only way Mourinho could have forged a success from his first season at Manchester United.
Standing in their way is one of the great names of European football, a young, dazzlingly talented but brittle Ajax side. Given Mourinho’s record in finals, few would bet against him in Stockholm.
He will have to do it without Eric Bailly. The Ivorian was dismissed in a fracas just after Celta Vigo, whose side costs a quarter of Juan Mata’s transfer fee, had equalised through Facundo Roncaglia’s header. The Argentine was also dismissed and the two men had to be kept apart as they walked towards the tunnel.
The journey to Sweden has been effective rather than heroic – only two results, the 4-0 win over Feyenoord and the 3-0 defeat of St Etienne – could be counted as memorable. However, this was a victory decided by one of Manchester United’s most effective players.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, the tie seemed settled the moment Marouane Fellaini escaped his marker to meet Marcus Rashford’s cross on the six yard box. His header squeezed between Sergio Alvarez’s glove and the post. It was a beautiful floated ball from the teenager and the Belgian’s header brooked no argument. Celta Vigo, needing now to score two times, seemed finished.
However, Celta played far, far better beneath the steepling stands of Old Trafford than they had in front of their own supporters in the more modest surroundings of their own ground, the Balaidos. They deserved their equaliser and kept passing and probing while their Ugandan-born forward, Pone Sisto, forced Sergio Romero to tip his shot into the Stretford End.
Two years ago in another Europa League tie, Sisto had scored for Midtjylland to inflict one of the most embarrassing defeats in Manchester United’s European history. An astonishing debut from Rashford erased that result and his touch for Fellaini’s goal showed Rashford’s game was about more than goals.
If Fellaini’s dismissal in the Manchester derby for two fouls within minutes of each other, emphasised his inadequacies, the way he dealt with Rashford’s cross suggested his value. He gives Manchester United something they lack, a committed physical presence.
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