On Sunday afternoon, Manchester United fans looked on in dismay as their back line featured two wingers at fullback, while a midfielder and a right back occupied the centre of their defence.
In recent weeks, Jose Mourinho has seen Marcus Rojo, Luke Shaw and Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffering season ending injuries while Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba and Juan Mata have also been withdrawn due to injury.
With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling both out for months, United were staring down the rather bleak prospect of starting a Europa League semi-final tie with no fit central defenders.
However, some hugely positive news has been confirmed as Paul Pogba and Juan Mata have both been passed fit for United’s must win tie vs Celta Vigo, while two invaluable centre backs will also be fit for the tie as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have also been declared fit for purpose.
With United looking extremely unlikely to finish in this season’s top four, a Europa League victory looks like their most likely route into next season’s Champions League and as such, the Celta Vigo clash is simply a must win.
Marouane Fellaini is likely to feature at Balaidos after picking up a domestic ban following his dismissal in the Manchester derby last Thursday.
The Belgian midfielder could line up alongside Wayne Rooney, who has scored in his last two Premier League games.
Rooney was a prominent figure in the group stages but has yet to feature in a knockout fixture so far this year.
Manchester United head into the first leg with a long injury list but Mourinho’s astute management in Europe could see the Red Devils go in as slight favourites.
Celta, however, will be looking to avenge their 3-0 drubbing at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
They have a good record in cup competitions this season, knocking out Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey en route to the final.
United have managed only two victories in 22 previous away matches against Spanish opposition. This is the statistic José Mourinho’s team have to improve.
Given this record, and how cagey European semi-finals often are, a draw, particularly a scoring one, would not be a disastrous result. But Mourinho has other ideas. “We’ve struggled in the Premier League, it’s been complicated, but we are here to win,” he said.
“It’s the same for both of us. When somebody arrives in the semi-final they want to be in the final. The Europa League is a long competition. To be in the final the team has to play the group stages, three knockout phases, has to travel a lot so when you arrive in the semi‑final you want to be in the final. Celta wants [to] and we want [to].”