When Jose Mourinho decided his Manchester United side should throw all of their energy into the Europa League, the sight of John Guidetti missing a gilt-edged 97th-minute chance to send Celta Vigo to the final instead of them will not have been what he had in mind. As Sergio Romero sighed afterwards, "Mamma mia, what a struggle!"
United head to Stockholm on May 24 counting their lucky stars after inviting late pressure on to themselves and just about getting away with it. Whereas Marouane Fellaini’s first-half header should have been the goal which settled them down in a game that they started poorly, it was simply the prelude to a crazy finish which should have knocked United out and left Mouirinho’s grand Champions League qualification plan in tatters.
Daniel Wass and former Manchester City man Guidetti had already missed great chances before Facundo Roncaglia equalised on the night and made it 2-1 on aggregate shortly before the Argentine was then red-carded along with Eric Bailly after a ridiculous push-and-shove which eventually took the intervention of all five officials to calm down.
Bailly will now miss the final, which is a major issue for United. "We have now lost a very important player, and we don't have many left," Mourinho lamented afterwards.
Of course, the Portuguese and his few fit players are lucky that they still have a final to look forward to, given Guidetti somehow missed an open goal as the home side scrambled around in their own area in the depths of injury time.
It should not have come to this after Marcus Rashford had once more played the role of talisman by delivering a wonderful deep cross for Fellaini to head in after an early spell of Celta pressure. Yet the striker was too often isolated as United continued in nervy style and Eduardo Berizzo will wonder how his side is not getting ready for a trip to the final after a late onslaught looked set to get them something from a second leg in which they were the true stars.
It said a lot about Celta’s wastefulness that it took a defender to snatch a late leveller on the night, and when Bailly completely lost his head in chasing Roncaglia around the pitch and shoving Guidetti to earn a sending-off, the Argentine was somewhat unfortunate to also be shown the red card.
This was the luckiest of lucky results for Mourinho and United when all was said and done. It was the level-headed approach for the coach to swear off the Premier League and back his players to overcome the seemingly lesser opposition in the Europa League and book a Champions League spot that way instead.
However, if United end up lifting the Europa League trophy at the end of the final against Ajax in 13 days’ time, they will do so knowing they were given an almighty let-off along the way.