On paper, the gap is unbridgeable. When Manchester United play Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final this Thursday the odds are entirely stacked on their side. Such is the scale of opposition, frankly there have been tougher walkovers.
Consider this: Celta Vigo have never been this far in European football in their history; Manchester United have won the Champions League twice, the European Cup once, been to the final on two other occasions and won the European Cup Winners' Cup. Last season Celta's average home attendance was 19,156; United’s was 75,329.
The Spanish club’s revenue is dwarfed by that of their opponents: their sponsorship deal with Adidas is worth just over £500,000 a season; in the same period United’s arrangement with the kit manufacturer brings in 150 times as much, £75 million. United paid £80 million for Paul Pogba; Celta’s priciest import is the forward Iago Aspas, their returning former player who they bought from Sevilla for under £4m after his less than fulfilling year-long sabbatical in Liverpool.
Yet any United fans thinking the task in Galicia on Thursday will be straightforward need to be injected immediately with a dose of caution: this could be the very point that Jose Mourinho’s season comes unstuck.
All the more so because of the growing significance of the game. After setting an unwanted record on Sunday by drawing their 10th home Premier League match of the season, United need to progress in the Europa League. A competition that has long been regarded around Old Trafford as something below their dignity is suddenly United’s lifeline.
Struggling to secure sufficient points to qualify for the Champions League via the conventional route, with away trips to Arsenal and Tottenham imminent, their best bet is to win Europe’s second tier competition. But Celta Vigo will ensure such a prospect is anything but straightforward.
For the Spaniards, Europe has been everything this season. In a league far more distorted by television income than in England, the chances of a small, provincial operation like Celta ever getting close to the top of La Liga is absurd. In Spain, the chances of doing a Leicester are precisely zero.
So what Eduardo Berizzo, the purposeful Argentine coach in charge of the club, has done is target the possible rather than the impossible. Resources have been husbanded into their Copa del Rey and Europa League campaigns. Players have been rested for league fixtures, everything directed to plausible returns. Make no mistake about it, Celta are not in this competition to make up numbers, to be cannon fodder for their super-rich guests, to pick up a few celebrity shirts swapped in the tunnel. They are in it to win.
Intense, hard, unyielding, Berizzo shares many of the qualities of his fellow Argentine coaches Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone. Like them he is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, serving as the guru’s assistant with the Chile national side before coming to Europe. As do his elevated compatriots, Berizzo follows the Bielsa methodology to the letter. This is a believer in the doctrine of pressing.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Why Celta Vigo match could be a rude awakening for Mourinho