How Jose Mourinho's Manchester United can get the better of their Europa League opponents Celta Vigo

Pako Ayestaran
The Independent
Jose Mourinho must ensure he gets his tactics right on Thursday night: Getty
Jose Mourinho must ensure he gets his tactics right on Thursday night: Getty

Make no mistake, Manchester United are in for a hugely demanding match on Thursday, but it is ironically one of Celta Vigo’s biggest strengths that could prove a huge opportunity for Jose Mourinho’s side.

To understand Eduardo Berizzo’s side, meanwhile, you have to understand Berizzo himself. He is another follower of Marcelo Bielsa and that means his teams follow similar patterns: Celta are based on intensity, high pressing and the individual battles of the players.

They play quite vertically, and look to arrive in the opposition box in as few touches as possible. When they are on form, they can be devastating and often just too fast for the opposition. The challenge for them is to keep the lines together, though, and that means they can get caught on the break - and thereby expose another issue in the team. Because Berizzo is so focused on individual battles and the individual concept of defence, they can be a bit disorganised in defence because it is difficult to find the right covering.

That can suit United because of the way they attack, especially with front players like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who love those one-on-one situations and taking on players. Celta defenders will follow the attackers instead of looking to collectively cover, and it could be a defining feature of the tie.

In terms of style and tactical approach, United do remain much more difficult to define than Celta. There was a point in the season when I think Mourinho found the right combination in the middle of the pitch. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera gave a balance, building the game for United but also filling in the gaps from players moving forward.

For a variety of reasons, they haven’t been able to maintain that and have been mixed in terms of performance. They may be unbeaten in their last 25 games but some displays simply have been found wanting, and when you miss so many chances over such a long period of time, you have to wonder whether it’s purely down to luck. Still, they have maintained an impressive solidity, and are very hard to break down and beat.

That, combined with how Celta defend against such players, could swing the game. As ever, though, much depends on the first 45 minutes. Berizzo’s teams play as if it’s the last match of their lives when at their best, and have also been saving themselves for this competition. They have lost their last three league games because they have been thinking about this semi-final, and that level of motivation is a swing in Celta’s favour. They also have potential match-winners, too, in Theo Bongonda and Iago Aspas, the latter of whom has scored 25 goals across all competitions for the club this season.

United are in for a test and can’t afford to let their weaknesses hinder their cause but, instead, must look to expose Celta’s own shortcomings.

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