Manchester United spurned a chance to keep afloat their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League after they only recently and reluctantly lost to Arsenal in the Premier League.
Jose Mourinho had from the onset claimed the encounter was not as auspicious since it was more as a formality rather than the usual season highlight: with his sights fully set on the midweek encounter against Celta Vigo.
The Portuguese manager will on Thursday night face his toughest test yet since arriving at Old Trafford last summer, as United play host to the La Liga outfit in the return leg of the Europa League semifinals.
Eredivisie side Ajax Amsterdam are technically through to the final after their 4-1 mauling of Olympique Lyon in the second semifinal, with many foreseeing an Ajax/United final.
All eggs in one basket
Qualifying for the Champions League is a given for a manager of Mourinho’s stature and experience, but Manchester United’s top four ambitions have over the course of the season taken a nosedive, by and large, the magnanimity with which the Red Devils have drawn in the Premier League, more so at home.
The Europa League however offers a chance for redemption, one that promises direct entry into the group stages of the Champions League, compared to finishing fourth on the log which is only sufficient enough for a playoff.
In a manner of speaking, United shouldn’t approach Celta Vigo in cavalier fashion, as the Spaniards will by hook or crook be chasing for the away goals to settle the tie.
Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba- who were all rested this past weekend against Arsenal- will without question return to the starting line-up as Mourinho looks set to field a full strength side.
Juan Mata may very well feature at some point to add a bit of drive and creativity to the attack, with the belief that Marcus Rashford will grace the day with some top brass finishing upfront.
Pogba will hopefully, alongside Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, exhibit a performance that will bill his price tag in a big way, aiding in the quest for a place in the final.
Mourinho may have already won two trophies this season, but booking a place in the final will be the penultimate litmus test to determine the level of success attained at Old Trafford, and quite possibly his future at the club.
Winning the Europa League may not be as easy as shooting a fish in a barrel, but Manchester United will have to fire on all cylinders to make it to Stockholm, before all is said and done.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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