Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of the game to hand Manchester United a considerable advantage in their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo. The one goal win was perhaps not the margin of victory that their dominance deserved, but José Mourinho will consider this a job well done.
The Reds started brightly, showing an early confidence in possession that was in stark contrast to the lethargy of last weekend’s performance in the league. Paul Pogba showed no signs of the injury that has kept him out of action lately, and returned a presence in midfield that United had been sorely lacking.
It was Celta Vigo that had the game’s first real chance though, as poor marking from United allowed Daniel Wass a free header than he inexplicably failed to even put on target. United, meanwhile, took almost 20 minutes to turn their dominance into a real chance, as Marcus Rashford drew a superb save from Sergio Alvarez with a rasping drive that was destined for the top corner.
United should have gone ahead right at the half hour mark. Henrik Mkhitaryan’s ball with the outside of his boot just evaded Jesse Lingard by inches. A few minutes later, it was Mkhitaryan’s turn to be denied by the ‘keeper; the Armenian’s shot was blocked after some superb approach work by Pogba. A familiar pattern of sterile dominance was beginning to emerge.
Alvarez still wasn’t done denying United, as he turned away a Lingard effort in the 39th minute that the Englishman really should have buried. Like so many other times this season, United entered halftime reasonably pleased with their overall performance but disappointed in their finishing.
Much to Mourinho’s visible annoyance on the sideline, the second half picked up right where the first left off - a slew of half-chances, but frustratingly no end product. And yet again, it was the home side that had the best of the early chances in the half. Sergio Romero was at full stretch to keep out a deflected effort from Pione Sisto in the 60th minute.
In the 67th minute, United finally got their reward. Rashford had started making an impression in the match, and a threatening run at the edge of the box saw him brought down to win a free kick in a dangerous area. Rashford himself stepped up to take the set-piece, and after a dummy from Daley Blind, The Kid curled a beauty over the wall and around Alvarez to put United in front.
Just five minutes later, Celta Vigo arguably should have drawn level, but former Liverpool man Iago Aspas shanked his shot wide. Lingard had United’s next chance, shooting wide after the ball dropped to him fortuitously in the area.
In the 80th minute, Mourinho made a double substitution. Ashley Young replaced the ineffective Mkhitaryan, and Anthony Martial came on for the goal-scorer Rashford, who appeared to have picked up a knock. After the changes, United were happy to see out the result. Unfortunately, the injury curse struck again. In the 90th minute, Ashley Young - himself only on the pitch for 10 minutes - picked up a hamstring strain and had to be replaced by Chris Smalling.
There was to be no late sting in the tail this time, at least, and United saw through a good result in the end.