Following on from their dramatic extra time victory over Anderlecht in the Europa League last eight, it was confirmed today that Manchester United will take on Spanish side Celta Vigo in the competition’s semi-finals.
The Galician outfit may not possess a big name, but they are a genuine threat to Jose Mourinho’s men and could prove to be a significant stumbling block for the Premier League giants. Here, Football Whispers takes a closer look at Celta, including their key players, tactics, strengths and weaknesses.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Celta have a proud recent history of operating primarily in the top flight of Spanish football. In the late 1990s they frequently finished in and around the European qualification spots with a team that included Claude Makelele, Gustavo Lopez and Valery Karpin. And, after a short spell in the second tier, they returned to La Liga in 2012 and have stayed there since.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique cut his teeth as a manager with the club, leading them to ninth place in 2013-14. Eduardo Berizzo succeeded Enrique in the dugout and guided Celta to eight- and sixth-place finishes in the last two seasons, ensuring Europa League football for the first time in nine years.
While they have struggled to maintain consistency across domestic and continental efforts this season, Celta have achieved some stunning results. They knocked Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey in January, defeated Barcelona 4-3 last October, and have won both games against Galician rivals Deportivo La Coruna.
Currently sitting 10th in the league table, Celta’s best hope of European competition next season is to win the Europa League. Champions League football would be huge for the club – the last time they experienced it came in 2003-04 – and having already seen off Shakhtar Donetsk, Genk and Krasnodar, they will have high hopes of knocking out Manchester United.
- Only six La Liga sides have scored more than Celta’s 48 goals this season
- However, their defensive record of 51 conceded is the worst in the league’s top half
- Only four La Liga teams average more tackles per game than Celta, and only five average more interceptions
- 26 per cent of Celta’s attacks are through the middle – only Barcelona attack more through this area
PLAYERS TO WATCH
👤 Iago Aspas in the Europa League this season:
⏱ Games – 7
🎩 Chances created – 15
⚽️ Goals – 5
🎯 Assists – 2 pic.twitter.com/y9I0wSNseI
— bet365 (@bet365) April 21, 2017
Iago Aspas: The former Liverpool attacker has been outstanding since finding his feet in La Liga once again. Aspas came through Celta’s youth academy and has excelled in attack since re-joining the club in 2015, scoring 49 goals across all competitions in two years.
This form at led to a Spain call-up last November, and he scored on his debut in a 2-2 draw against England at Wembley. Having failed to impress in the Premier League, he may be more determined than ever to show his quality against Manchester United.
Theo Bongonda: Celta have a fairly fluid attack, with Aspas the only absolute certainty to start when fully fit. A number of players could start alongside the Spaniard, though Bongonda is perhaps the most dangerous of the lot.
The 21-year-old Belgian winger has serious pace, likes to hug the line and drive at opposing full-backs. It’s no surprise that he has completed more dribbles per game – 1.9 – than any of his team-mates.
Jonny Castro: A flexible full-back capable of performing effectively on either flank, Jonny could prove to be a thorn in Mourinho’s side both defensively and in offensive situations.
The 23-year-old, who was born and raised locally in Vigo, is an astute marker and aggressive tackler. He also provides thrust in attack with the occasional fast, adventurous foray.
Pablo Hernandez: The Chilean international has a wand of a left foot, something that comes in handy when Celta are trying to build attacks from deep, as well as in the final third.
Hernandez’s role is to orchestrate, but he occasionally pops up with wonder strikes. Speaking of which…
Celta are likely to line up in a rough 4-3-3 shape with two out and out wingers playing on either side of a striker. Aspas is likely to lead the line centrally, though he will move laterally to try and find opportunities in Manchester United’s defensive line. On each flank, the pace and directness of Bongonda and Pione Sisto could force Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw back.
Berizzo likes his midfield three to be fluid, with plenty of rotations of position and blindside movement from the trio to break through the opposition’s press. Hernandez will probably start alongside Nemanja Radoja in front of the defence, with versatile Dane Daniel Wass slightly ahead of the pair.
Celta circulate the ball quickly among their back four, which should feature Jonny and Hugo Mallon either side of a centre-back pairing of Gustavo Cabral, Andreu Fontas. The latter is perhaps the tidiest distributor, so he will be tasked with progressing the ball to Hernandez, Radoja and Wass.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Celta operate with a rigorous man-oriented marking scheme defensively, which entails players picking up and intensively tracking opposition individuals whenever they enter their zone. An example of this can be seen in the image below.
This aggressive form of defending can be difficult to play through if there is not enough movement off the ball, though Manchester United could turn Celta’s strength into an opportunity of their own with the combination of Marcus Rashford’s pace and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s movement.
Mourinho has openly admitted he is concerned about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury picked up in the win over Anderlecht. “I want to wait and be optimistic, but I am not,” the Portuguese told the press after the Swede landed awkwardly having challenged for a header. But the Zlatan’s absence could prove a blessing in disguise for this particular tie.
Were the centre-forward to play, his lack of mobility, along with Celta’s attentive defending, could see him ruthlessly marked out of the game. However, if Zlatan missed out Rashford may come in, and Celta would find it harder to keep tabs on the pacey, skilful English youngster.
Mourinho should also look to push his full-backs, Valencia and Shaw or Darmian, high up each flank in a bid to drag Celta’s wingers back and reduce the prospect of them causing problems with their speed and purposeful running.