MANCHESTER: Manchester United can add the Europa League to their trophy cabinet after edging through a tempestuous semi-final against Celta Vigo after 14 matches that have taken Jose Mourinho’s men to Holland, Turkey, Ukraine, France, Russia, Belgium and Spain.
Reaching the May 24 finale was far from straightforward, though, as Marouane Fellaini’s first-half header was cancelled out by Facundo Roncaglia five minutes from the end of the semi-final second leg.
The drama did not end there as Celta’s goalscorer and Eric Bailly were sent off as tempers frayed, with United holding out for a 1-1 draw that saw them reach the Stockholm final 2-1 on aggregate.
Mourinho said: “I didn’t see the incident but he [Bailly] was phenomenal. The game was emotional until the end for everyone. Some kept their control in a better way than others. Probably Eric was a bit naive. I don’t know [the details of] the incident but we have lost a very important player for the final and we don’t have many.”
The manager praised his players for doing so but was unhappy they had not killed off the tie in Vigo last week.
He said: “The boys didn’t play a phenomenal match but they fought, they gave everything they had to give and I’m really pleased for them because 14 matches and we are in the final so it’s good.
“When you are the best team by far in the first leg, you have to kill everything in the first leg. We don’t because we never kill, we never score goals related to the chances we have. And then we got an open game at home with all the pressure on our side with them completely free of pressure and responsibility and they gave us a very hard match. So we had to suffer until the end and everything was open until the last second.”
The relief was as clear as the joy at the final whistle as United moved within a victory of the only major trophy to have eluded them in their success-laden history.
Europa League glory also offers Champions League qualification – United’s best chance of returning to Europe’s top table given their Premier League struggles – but Ajax are likely to prove as stern a test as Celta.
Few could have foreseen such a nervy ending when Fellaini headed home Marcus Rashford’s fine cross, but Celta’s efforts were rewarded by a late goal from Roncaglia – a player sent off along with Bailly moments later.
Former Manchester City striker John Guidetti wasted a gilt-edged chance to turn the tie around entirely with the last kick of the game, but United now have the chance to add the Europa League to this season’s Community Shield and EFL Cup triumphs.