With a slender away goal advantage from the first leg a week earlier United still had work to do here. Jose Mourinho picked the same side that he selected in Spain and set them up with the same 4-3-3 shape. That meant Herrera as the holding player in midfield with Fellaini to the right and Pogba to the left further forward. Celta set up again in their usual 4-2-3-1.

Uniteds starting shape

Uniteds starting shape

In the first leg Celta seemed cautious and slow, seemingly overawed by United. Here it was United who were slow. This rather surrendered the initiative to Celta who made a good start. They pressed United high and whilst in the early stages they did not create that much this certainly contained United. In the first ten minutes United rarely got out of their own half of the pitch. United were rather lucky then to take the lead in the 17th minute when a sharper passage of play saw Rashford cross to the far post and Fellaini squeeze his heads between keeper and post. This should have killed the tie but given United’s cautious approach and Celta’s nothing to lose position it didn’t.

The key to the early part of the first half was a ponderous start by United and an assertive high press by Celta.
On gaining possession Celta moved the ball quickly, often via Wass, Aspas and Sisto and usually towards their left, United’s right. Here they looked to isolate Darmian and occasionally Blind. This worked well, they found space and overlaps here and had their delivery been better and Guidetti this sharper they may have capitalised.

abNkxA9ah8  Manchester United v FK Rostov - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: Second Leg

United’s shape changed as Mkhitaryan dropped back

In the middle of the half United managed to gain a foothold and it was around this time that they scored. They managed to do this because of a number of factors. Firstly Mkhitaryan dropped deep to play almost as a secondary left back. This helped Darmian enormously. Pogba also dropped deeper. Fellaini pushed higher on the other side which gave United a lopsided diagonal look. This was balanced by Rashford drifting left. At this point United had a couple of periods of extended possession.

Paul Pogba gave another great Europa League performance

Paul Pogba gave another great Europa League performance

Extended possession aside United looked a better side when they moved the ball more quickly. They were perhaps able to do this more effectively because of the adjustments described above but also because Celta over extended themselves on occasions leaving room for a United to break. Another factor was the central midfield strength and excellence of Paul Pogba.

Nevertheless United were perhaps fortunate to be leading 1-0 at the break.

Given their slow start to the second half one perhaps expected that a few half time words might prevent the same thing happening in the second half. If there were a few words they had little effect. Again Celta pushed high, again United were ponderous and again this resulted in Celta taking the initiative.

The other notable feature of the second half was that United were sitting far too deep in a defensive block. Many will speculate that this was evidence of Mourinho cautious defensive mind set as a coach. We don’t accept that, but rather feel it was over caution on the part of the players as it was very notice that from the first moment he was introduced as a substitute Michael Carrick was constantly urging his team mates to push up. Carrick was introduced for Fellaini in the 77th minute.

United late in the game, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 after the introduction of Carrick

United late in the game, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 after the introduction of Carrick

United formed a barrier in the second half but they did not control the game and they did not really control space. Celta managed an equaliser from a set piece in the 86th minute immediately after which Rooney replaced the largely anonymous Lingard. Then the game descended into madness with two players Celta’s goal scorer Roncaglia and Eric Bailly who stupidly pushed Roncaglia. He will now miss the final.

United got away with this result. They were far too cautious and but for a lack of sharpness in the Celta frontline, notably from Guidetti they would have been eliminated.

They have made it to the final but will need a far better performance to triumph in Stockholm.