UEFA Europa League Semi-Final First Leg
Celta Vigo vs. Manchester United
Venue: Estadio de Balaidos
Date: Thursday, 4 May 2017
Kick-off: 20:05 BST
Manchester United secured a 1-0 win away from home in the Europa League semi-final first leg against Celta Vigo.
Marcus Rashford’s direct free-kick strike was enough to separate the sides midway through the second half as United bagged a crucial away goal.
It could’ve been more as goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez made a string of fine stops to deny the visiting attack, but Jose Mourinho will be happy to return to Manchester with this scoreline.
With 10 minutes gone, despite the bright opening from United, Daniel Wass headed wide from Nemanja Radoja’s central cross when maybe he should’ve hit the target before the same man miscued an attempt that fell wide without troubling.
Shifting onto his stronger right foot, Marcus Rashford’s curling effort looked in only for Alvarez to produce a fine save to tip the ball behind.
Pione Sisto dragged wide before striking straight at Sergio Romero, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s low deflected cross was only half reached by Jesse Lingard who didn’t have the connection to divert goalwards.
An exceptional through ball from Paul Pogba then set Mkhitaryan clear, but he failed to make it five consecutive away European matches with a goal as Alvarez thwarted the Armenian playmaker.
The Celta keeper then denied Lingard’s side footed strike after Rashford’s neat flick through with former City striker John Guidetti seeing a shot blocked.
After the break, Lingard’s dangerous cross was cut out by Gustavo Cabral as Pogba’s first time strike from the former’s set dropped over the bar.
The former Liverpool player Iago Aspas glanced a header wide as Wass was afforded time and space to cross, and Romero was called into action to tip over Sisto’s deflected shot.
Rashford’s burst of speed sent him racing away but he lacked the composure and was off target with his finish.
Captain Hugo Mallo was then booked for a cynical foul as he blocked Rashford’s run on the edge of the box, but Rashford had the last word by curling an exquisite free-kick into the far corner.
Looking for a response, Cabral shot over and Aspas struck wide via his shin before Lingard flashed wide at the other end.
Trying to catch Alvarez off guard, Pogba’s free-kick whistled past the side netting but the away side held on to the victory after five additional minutes.
This was arguably United’s best European performance of the season, particularly in the knockout stages, with the only downside the failure to not have grabbed more goals, especially after the first half chances.
Having scored first away at Rostov and Anderlecht in the previous two rounds only to be pegged back, keeping a clean sheet tonight against an attacking quarter boasting 45 goals between them this campaign and a side who rested players at the weekend shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The return leg at Old Trafford takes place next Thursday at the same time of 8:05pm BST with a place in Stockholm’s Final up for grabs.
Before then, United will face what is sure to be a highly-charged contest at Arsenal this Sunday, with a 4pm kick-off scheduled at the Emirates Stadium, where the race for the top four enters the final stretch.
United: Romero; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera; Lingard, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan (Young 78) (Smalling 89); Rashford (Martial 80).
Subs not used: De Gea, Carrick, Mata, Rooney.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Vigo: Alvarez; Mallo (Beauvue 90+2), Cabral, Roncaglia, Jonny; Wass (Jozabed 74), Radoja, Hernandez; Aspas, Guidetti, Sisto.
Subs not used: Villar, Fontas, Diaz, Bongonda, Gomez.
Manager: Eduardo Berizzo