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Friday, 16 November, 2018

United can put one foot in Europa final

Celta Vigo defence may struggle

Manchester United duo Paul Pogba and Juan Mata
1 of 1

Europa League semi-final first leg
BT Sport 2, 8.05pm Thursday

The Europa League has become the top priority for Manchester United and the Red Devils may have one foot in the final after taking on Celta Vigo in Galicia.

United's season is going to be judged on whether they qualify for the Champions League.

They are a point outside of the Premier League top four but have a tough run-in including trips to Arsenal and Tottenham.

Jose Mourinho has talked about involving fringe players and youngsters in their domestic games and spoke specifically about the home fixture with Crystal Palace on May 21, which takes place three days before the Europa League final in Stockholm.

All efforts from this point are directed towards winning the Europa League and United's chances against Celta have improved with Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones returning to training.

Smalling and Jones are more likely to be available for the second leg at Old Trafford but the availability of Bailly and Pogba is a key factor as it will allow Mourinho to select a strong defence and his first-choice midfield.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of five Europa League goals this season, will be missed. Marcus Rashford has been getting more exposure up front and has done well enough, scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over Chelsea and the winner in United's 3-2 aggregate success over Anderlecht.

But the 19-year-old has started seven games since the start of April and was looking a bit leggy in the closing stages of the draws away to Manchester City (0-0) and at home to Swansea (1-1).

However, Rashford's pace could be a key element against a Celta side under pressure to make the most of the opening leg.

Celta's 3-0 loss at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday should be largely ignored as manager Eduardo Berizzo rested a host of key players with the United game in mind.

However, the Galicians' performances and results have been inconsistent for much of the season and their 44-point tally is ten fewer than they had at the same stage of last season.

Pacy attacker Iago Aspas has starred, scoring 24 goals in all competitions, and United will have to keep a close eye on Danish international winger Pione Sisto, who scored two goals against them while playing for Midtjylland in last season's Europa League round of 32.

Celta pose a substantial goal threat and have notched ten times in their last five Europa League fixtures, but they are suspect defensively.

They made hard work of a 4-3 aggregate success over unheralded Belgians Genk in the quarter-finals and have shipped 57 goals in 34 La Liga games, the most of any team in the top 12.

United may not be as formidable as they were earlier in the season when Ibrahimovic was leading the line but they have become a very hard team to beat.

Only Chelsea have defeated the Red Devils in 2017 and United's stubborn streak should ensure they return to Manchester with at least a share of the spoils.

Manchester United draw no bet
2pts 10-11 Hills

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Team news
Celta Vigo
Giuseppe Rossi and Ruben Blanco are long-term absentees. Carles Planas (knee) is a doubt.

Manchester United
Defenders Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are back in training after injuries but Bailly is the most likely to be available. Paul Pogba (muscle strain) is set to return but Timothy Fosu Mensah, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw are sidelined.

Key stat 
Manchester United have lost one of their last 22 matches.

Celta have notched ten times in their last five Europa League fixtures, but they are suspect defensively
E.W. Terms
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