He booked Manchester United’s place in the last four of the Europa League with an extra-time winner in the previous round and, on Thursday night, Marcus Rashford went one better when he edged the Reds a step closer to the final with a sublime free-kick to seal a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo.
United’s no.19 netted the 19th goal of his fledging Reds career – and his first outside the box – after curling home on 67 minutes. While the semi-final tie is far from over, leaving Spain with an away goal and a clean sheet is just the tonic needed ahead of next Thursday’s second leg at Old Trafford, with a place in Stockholm looming large.
Jose Mourinho welcomed back fit-again Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, who is serving a domestic ban, to his midfield, while Eric Bailly started in defence despite limping out of the previous game against Swansea City. Sergio Romero kept his place in goal after starting both legs of the quarter-final.
For Celta Vigo, the match represented one of the biggest occasions in their history. It was the club’s first-ever experience of a European semi-final and going off the amount of statues, monuments and buildings adorned with Celta shirts, scarves and flags around town, it wasn’t just a huge night for the football team, but the city as a whole.
And it was the hosts who had the first opening of the night, 11 minutes in. Nemanja Radoja sent an inviting cross into the box where Daniel Wass found himself unmarked but he couldn’t direct his header on target.
Thereafter followed three excellent opportunities for United to steal a march in the tie and snatch a vital away goal, but, in Sergio Alvarez, the Reds found yet another goalkeeper in inspired form. After flinging himself high to his left to fingertip away a brilliant curling effort from Rashford, he then saved well from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who was put clear by the increasingly influential Pogba, 10 minutes from the break.
Four minutes later Jesse Lingard, who earlier was unlucky not to make contact with a Mkhitaryan cross which would have been a tap-in, saw an effort saved at close range as Alvarez continued to keep Mourinho’s men at bay.