Man United v Celta Vigo: Jonathan Wilson's tactical preview


Manchester United have certain key players out but the situation is nowhere near as dire as Jose Mourinho has been making out. United will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw, all of whom will miss the rest of the season, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah has a shoulder injury and Ashley Young is struggling with a hamstring problem but with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones back, he should otherwise have a full squad to select from.

Giuseppe Rossi has suffered another cruciate injury and is out for Celta, who will also be without the Chilean midfielder Pablo Hernandez and goalkeeper Ruben Blanco.



United’s 25-game unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an end on Sunday as they lost at Arsenal, also ending Mourinho’s unbeaten record against Arsene Wenger in competitive games. Mourinho sought to play down the signifcance of a possible defeat in advance, insisting that his focus is on the Europa League and, while that may be true, the side he put out at the Emirates was not the patched together hotch-potch of kids and no-hopers he tried to suggest. Generally, though, United have been getting results without playing particularly well in recent months. They’ve won six out of six at home in Europe this season and are unbeaten in their last 17 home games in continental competition.

Celta effectively wrote off the league a month ago and lie twelfth in the table. Defeat at Malaga on Sunday evening with their fourth in a row in the league, their fifth in all competitions.



United’s 1-0 win in Vigo last week was the first meeting between the sides but they generally prosper at Old Trafford against Spanish opposition. Although United have won only 13 of 48 meetings with Spanish teams, they have lost only four of 22 at home. Celta have won three of the five games they’ve played on English soil, but have lost their last four against Premier League opposition.



The Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo is a devotee of Marcelo Bielsa and has his side play with a high press, but that didn’t faze United in the first leg. Celta dominated possession, 58% to 42%, but United were solid in their 4-3-3, gave up only two shots on target and were persistently dangerous on the break, the pace of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard repeatedly causing problems behind the Celta defence.

The frustration for Mourinho – as so often this season – was a failure to take chances. Rashford’s free-kick separates the sides, but it could easily have been two- or three-nil.



Mourinho has mixed and matched formations this season, generally preferring a 4-2-3-1. He has recently, though, come to prefer a 4-3-3, which is what he used in the first leg. That has two advantages. It means that if he wants to sit deep and present a solid block to the opposition, with a line of three midfielders shielding the back four, he can – and United have the pace in forward areas, allied to the intelligence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to take advantage on the counter.

Whether that is a long-term solution for a club that presumably sees itself dominating games is another matter. More encouragingly, fielding a central midfield three seems to get the best out of Paul Pogba, who gave one of his best performances for United in the first leg. Playing him as one of two holding midfielders seems restrictive and he almost visibly chafes against the discipline but he perhaps lacks the guile to be a creator in a 4-2-3-1. On the outside of a central three, though, his energy and combination of attacking and defensive qualities can both be utilised.



Berizzo has tended to use a 4-3-3/ 4-2-3-1 hybrid this season, with Daniel Wass getting forward from midfield to join the forward line.

The goal threat, though, has come from the former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas, cutting in off the right flank. He has 17 goals this season and, while United handled him well enough in the first leg, it does mean additional defensive onus on that left side of the team, including Pogba.  That presumably is why Mourinho deployed Matteo Darmian, probably the most defensively secure of his full-backs, on that flank in the first leg.



It’s very hard to make a case for Celta Vigo turning this around, but equally there doesn’t seem a huge amount of value in backing United to win at 1.58. Given United’s capacity under Mourinho for shutting games down, given that United don’t need to win, and given they have the security of the away goal, the best value perhaps lies in backing under-2.5 goals in the game at 2.08.