Manchester United’s quest for Champions League football next season took a massive hit when star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered serious damage to his ACL and PCL ligaments in Thursday’s Europa League tie with Anderlecht .
United are fighting the battle for Champions League on two fronts, in England and in Europe. Jose Mourinho’s side controls their own destiny for a top four finish in the Premier League. Thursday’s showdown with Manchester City will have serious table implications in addition to the heated derby atmosphere.
A difficult schedule still awaits, with visits to City, Arsenal and Tottenham still to come. Zlatan’s injury thrusts the spotlight on young Marcus Rashford and club legend Wayne Rooney at striker. Anthony Martial will also likely be given a chance to redeem himself for past chances not taken.
Rashford has been significantly better in the last month and can give shaky backlines fits with his pace and work rate. Rooney and Anthony Martial both stepped up by scoring United’s goals in a 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday. If that trio continues to play well, it could even be an improvement over filtering the entire attack through Ibrahimovic. Liverpool’s loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday puts United in their best table position in months, making a top four dream very much alive.
In Europe, the Red Devils are in the Semi-finals of the Europa League. They must win the competition in order to automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League. Celta Vigo from Spain will prove to be a difficult test in the semis.
While they only sit tenth in La Liga, Celta have proved they can be giant killers by defeating both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season. Forward Iago Aspas is tied with Antoine Griezmann for fifth in La Liga with 16 goals on the season. Man U also lost defender Marcos Rojo to injury and will be shorthanded facing Aspas and the dangerous Celta attack.
United will likely play similarly to the way they did against Anderlecht. Expect Mourinho to be conservative in the opening away tie and attack back home in Manchester in the decisive second tie.
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