Five things we learned as Manchester United head to the Europa League final in Stockholm

They have only 13 days until the final takes place in Sweden

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The Independent Football

All eggs in one basket

After resting so many key players against Arsenal on Sunday, it was clear that Mourinho’s faith in reaching the Champions League was in winning the Europa. Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly all returned after their little rest. It seemed to work as United looked full of energy with plenty of options to come off the bench should it all go wrong, as Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata all looked on. If it wasn’t clear which competition Mourinho was prioritising one look at the team-sheet on Thursday night compared to Sunday should tell you all you need to know.

What home comforts?

Manchester United looked uneasy, unsettled and taken aback by the way Celta Vigo started the game. The Spaniards were the one needing the goal but the motivation was there for Mourinho’s side to kill the tie early on. But Iago Aspas twice in the opening five minutes found space on the right-hand side to cut in and force Sergio Romero into action. It has been the sort of confidence-lacking play which has marred United’s top-four challenge all season and threatened to do so again on Thursday night. Mourinho demanded an improved atmosphere from the one during the Anderlecht game in the last round and wouldn’t have been disappointed – but it is difficult to cheer when your side is under attack so early on.

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Iago Aspas tried to make an early impression on the game (Getty)

Rashford is no Harry Kane experiment

Rashford’s promotion to free-kick taker stank of Roy Hodgson’s decision to do the same with Harry Kane during the European Championships with England last summer – initially that is. But after his stunning free-kick in Vigo in the first leg he pulled out another fantastic bit of skill, this time in open play, to put United ahead again. This time he was provider but Marouane Fellaini couldn’t have wished for a better cross to tuck away. It’s another string to Rashford’s already impressive bow.

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Rashford looked impressive leading the line once again (Getty)

Mourinho knows how to win

Despite the auspicious start, after the goal United did exactly what they did in the first leg and shut up shop. They kept it tight and never committed too many men forward in search of a second, tie-ended goal, knowing that victory was within their grasp. It has been Mourinho’s tactic so often this season and so often it has failed in the final few stages as a game they dominate ends in a draw. There was an air of anxiety throughout the second half, but there needn’t have been. Mourinho knows how to win and how to drag his sides through a cup competition – hence United reaching the quarter-final of the FA Cup and winning the League Cup in addition to this Europa League run.

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Mourinho set his side out not to concede (Getty)

Will sixth place be successful season?

Despite spending most of the season stuck in sixth place, Mourinho is on the verge of a very successful first season with the club. A Europa League final win would mean he finishes with two pieces of silverware and Champions League qualification – as well as a club-record unbeaten run in the middle of it. If he adds a couple of much-needed signings in the summer then he can be fully content with the job he has done so far. Be sure, if he can add goals to this difficult-to-beat side, then you could well be looking at next season’s Premier League champions. That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, but who would have thought a sixth-placed finish would spell a successful season? 

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