WILLIE DUNCAN (@Willie_Duncan) takes up the controls as Manchester United travel to Spain to face Celta Vigo on Thursday night.
Celta Vigo v Manchester United | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
When the draw for the Europa League semi-finals was made, Manchester United could be forgiven for feeling supremely confident of booking their place in the final of the competition after being paired against Celta Vigo.
The La Liga side are, quite possibly, the weakest team still standing in the competition, while Mourinho’s men are widely regarded as the odds compilers’ red-hot favourites to secure the silverware in Sweden later this month.
United should still be good enough to progress, but the assignment has been made significantly tougher by an injury list that appears to be growing by the day.
Eric Baily and Luke Shaw were the latest casualties, with both men limping out of action against Swansea on Sunday.
Their names can be added to those of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, both of whom came a cropper against Anderlecht in the previous round, while both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured while on international duty for England back in March.
The most significant of those six names is, arguably, Ibrahimovic. United’s 35-year-old talismanic striker has scored so many important goals for the men from Manchester throughout the campaign and there is no doubt that the Swedish star’s absence is a major blow.
Mourinho, though, may be keen to point out that the other five names are all defenders and, it seems likely, that United will go into this European semi-final without a recognised central defender on the pitch.
Opportunity knocks for Celta
As such, Celta may well feel that they have been presented with a golden opportunity to make their mark on this tie – and the La Liga side will be desperately keen to exploit any weakness in the heart of United’s makeshift defence by getting amongst the goals.
United, though, are not exactly sitting ducks coming into this match. Mourinho’s men have plenty of quality in the final third – even without Ibrahimovic; Rooney, Rashford, Martial, Lingard, Mata, Fellaini and Pogba are all more than capable of making their presence felt in Spain.
Attack best form of defence
Attack, therefore, may be Manchester United’s best form of defence and they are certainly capable of making it a difficult night for the hosts. The Spanish side have a dubious defensive record, for they have shipped 57 goals in La Liga this season and that will be giving Eduardo Berizzo sleepless nights ahead of Thursday’s tussle.
Backing a glut of goals has not proven profitable when United have hit the road during their Europa League campaign, with just one of their six away ties producing more than two goals, while there has been more than two goals scored inside normal time in just one of the Red Devils’ last nine games.
Both sides, however, are vulnerable at the back and, so, the 39/25 quote from Marathon for Over 2.5 Goals to be scored in this game could offer decent value to punters.
Celta Vigo v Manchester United – Over 2.5 Goals (39/25 Marathon)