Manchester United booked a place opposite Ajax in the UEFA Europa League final on 24 May in Stockholm after a competitive 1-1 draw against Celta Vigo at Old Trafford on Thursday.
A first-half header from Marouane Fellaini was cancelled out by Facundo Roncaglia four minutes from time but ultimately ensured United’s safe passage to Sweden, after a dramatic semi-final second leg which ended with both sides reduced to 10 men after Roncaglia and Eric Bailly were sent off following a flare-up after the equaliser.
Jose Mourinho fielded an unchanged starting line-up following the 1-0 first leg win in Spain as the Reds looked to extend the club’s 17-match unbeaten home run in Europe.
Despite winning all six home Europa League matches this season, it was the visitors who started brightest as former Liverpool man Iago Aspas forced Sergio Romero into a save inside five minutes after cutting in smartly from the right wing.
With Celta Vigo controlling the early possession, it took an individual piece of brilliance in the centre of the park from Paul Pogba to ignite United as he set Marcus Rashford away on the counter-attack, but it was well cut-out.
That was a promising sign of things to come from the Reds who took the lead on 17 minutes as Rashford’s sumptuous cross from the left was clinically met by Fellaini at the far post.
The Belgian’s fourth goal of the season was also United’s 100th of the 2016/17 campaign and the midfielder has now scored in FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League semi-final matches for United.
That goal ignited Old Trafford and the hosts could have doubled their lead minutes later as Rashford’s clever turn of pace set him free once more but the ball was pinched off his toe as he looked to strike at goal.
It remained an open encounter for much of the half but chances were at a premium with both sides limiting the opposition to long-range attempts.
As the half looked set to peter out, Eduardo Berizzo’s side increased the tempo and were nearly level after tricky play on the left from Pione Sisto allowed him to whip a low cross across the box which Daniel Wass dived low to head wide with Romero stranded.
Possession: United 38% Celta Vigo 62%
Shots: United 6 Celta Vigo 7
Shots on target: United 1 Celta Vigo 3
Corners: United 1 Celta Vigo 4
The Spaniards began the second half as they did the first, taking the game to United and were almost level inside 60 seconds of the restart as their right-back and captain Mallo almost caught Romero out with a swift cross across the box from the right.
Both sides cancelled each other out with a ferocious midfield battle and despite their dominance in possession, Celta Vigo struggled to find a way back into the tie.
As Mourinho urged his players on from his technical area they responded well and first Rashford, then Fellaini, brought good saves out of Alvarez with low strikes inside the box.
Finding themselves 2-0 down on aggregate it was the visitors who pushed hardest for the next goal in the game and former Manchester City striker John Guidetti was culpable of missing a good chance when he headed wide after finding space between Eric Bailly and Daley Blind.
There were, however, more twists left in the game and the Spanish side were level on the night with five minutes remaining after a cross from the right was glanced home smartly by Roncaglia.
Yet moments later tempers from both sets of players spilled over and following a melee, referee Ovidiu Hategan sent both Bailly and Celta goalscorer Roncaglia off.
The two players continued their war of words as they headed down the tunnel and despite the late drama, the Reds showed big-game experience to hold on and ensure the Europa League journey extends to the final destination in Stockholm later this month.
Mourinho’s side have three league games before then with a trip to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane being the next task on Sunday afternoon.
Possession: United 33% Celta Vigo 67%
Shots: United 11 Celta Vigo 16
Shots on target: United 4 Celta Vigo 6
Corners: United 4 Celta Vigo 8
United: Romero; Valencia (c), Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Fellaini, Herrera; Mkhitaryan (Carrick 77), Pogba, Lingard (Rooney 85), Rashford (Smalling 89).
Substitutes not used: De Gea, Jones, Mata, Martial.
Booked: Blind, Herrera.
Sent Off: Bailly.
Celta Vigo: Alvarez, Mallo (c), Cabral, Roncaglia, Jonny, Radoja (Bongonda 68), Hernandez, Wass (Jozabed 46), Iago Aspas, Sisto (Beauvue 80), Guidetti.
Substitutes not used: Villar, Fontas Prat, Diaz, Gomez.
Sent Off: Roncaglia.