Gab Marcotti says while Man United may be the best team left in the UEL, Celta Vigo pose a difficult task in the semifinal.
Pione Sisto’s second-half strike was enough for Celta Vigo to hold off Racing Genk and advance to the semifinals.
Manchester United’s next Europa League opponents, Celta Vigo, are in unchartered waters after making it to the semifinals of a major European competition for the first time in club history.
The La Liga outfit held Genk to a 1-1 draw in Belgium on Thursday to progress 4-3 on aggregate and set up a meeting with the three-time European champions.
Celta will host United on May 4 before travelling to Old Trafford a week later for the return leg. United are considered favourites to reach the final on May 24 in Stockholm, but they will have to overcome a Celta side that have shown plenty of resilience this season.
Here are five things you need to know about Celta Vigo:
1. Based in Galicia, northwest tip of Spain
Celta are based in the city of Vigo, located in northwest Spain on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and in the community of Galicia. Vigo has a population of 294,997.
Their 29,000-seat Balaidos stadium, located near the historic city centre, opened in 1928 and hosted Italy’s group games in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
It is owned by the Vigo town hall and the club failed to acquire the venue back in December. Earlier this year, Celta’s home league game against Real Madrid was postponed after extreme weather caused damage to the stadium.
2. Gained promotion to La Liga in 2011-12
Founded in August 1923, Celta have played 50 seasons in Spain’s top flight and 30 in the second tier. They have finished top of the second division on three occasions (1935-36, 1981-82 and 1991-92) and have played in La Liga since gaining promotion in the 2011-12 campaign.
The club, which have 14,000 members, have three times finished runners-up in the Copa del Rey, the last in the 2000-01 campaign. Celta beat Zenit St Petersburg 4-3 on aggregate to win the Intertoto Cup in 2000, their only official trophy.
Under coach Victor Fernandez, Celta qualified for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup three straight seasons, in 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2000-01. They beat Liverpool at home and away in the competition in the 1998-99 campaign and achieved their biggest win in the competition to date, a 7-0 triumph over Benfica, the following season.
Celta have competed in the Champions League just once, in the 2003-04 campaign, and their most famous victory was a 2-1 result over the previous season’s winners, AC Milan, at the San Siro.
In 2006, Galician businessman Carlos Mourino became Celta’s majority shareholder. The 74-year-old has received several offers to sell the club, which are in good financial health, but has turned them down.
Celta Vigo advanced to the Europa League semifinals with a 1-1 draw at Genk on Thursday, progressing 4-3 on aggregate.
3. This is their first major European semifinal
Celta finished sixth in La Liga last season to return to European football after a 10-year absence.
They won two (2-0 triumphs at home and away to Panathinaikos), drew three (1-1 draws at home and away to Standard Liege and a 2-2 draw at home to Ajax) and lost one (3-2 defeat at Ajax) of their six Group G encounters to finish second in their pool, five points behind Ajax. The Galician side scored 10 goals but conceded seven in the process in the group stages.
After falling 1-0 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in their round-of-32 first leg, Celta played the second leg on Feb. 23 and Iago Aspas’ penalty in injury time allowed the La Liga side to force extra time. Celta defender Gustavo Cabral’s 108th-minute header silenced the crowd at the Metalist Stadium and saw the visitors through, 2-1 on aggregate.
The team had four different players (Daniel Wass, Claudio Beauvue, Hugo Mallo and Aspas) score in their 4-1 aggregate win over Krasnodar in the round of 16, winning 2-1 at home on March 9 before their 2-0 triumph in Russia a week later.
Pione Sisto’s strike in the 63rd minute of Thursday’s 1-1 draw at Genk gave Celta a 4-3 aggregate win to progress to their first major European semifinal.
Celta are 10th in La Liga, nine points adrift of sixth-place Athletic Bilbao, but have a game in hand.
4. Coach Berizzo leading a steady climb
A former Argentina international, Eduardo Berizzo took over Celta, a club he played for four seasons, when he replaced Luis Enrique in the summer of 2014.
The 47-year-old had previously coached Argentine side Estudiantes de la Plata and Chilean outfit O’Higgins.
Also a former defender at Newell’s Old Boys and River Plate, Berizzo steered Celta to an eighth-place finish in his first season in charge and to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey in the past two seasons.
“We become stronger after each game,” Berizzo said after Thursday’s win, as reported in Marca. “We discover what we are capable of and that allows me to find new possibilities.
“We have believed together that we can win against anyone.”
5. Ex-Liverpool man Aspas the scorer
Aspas, who joined Celta at age eight, scored 23 goals for the club in their promotion-winning campaign of 2011-12.
He was sold to Liverpool for £7 million in the summer of 2013, but found the back of the net just twice in 16 appearances before accepting a loan move to Sevilla, who later bought the player’s rights.
Aspas returned to Celta in the summer of 2015 and his prolific performances for the Galician side earned him a place in the Spain squad. The 29-year-old has scored 16 goals and set up three more in 28 league appearances. He has been on target in Europe, scoring five goals in 10 games this season.
John Guidetti, who spent seven seasons at Manchester City with a mix of loan spells, has also been a key player for Celta since his arrival in July 2015 as a free agent.
The Sweden international striker has scored four goals and set up two more in 11 Europa League appearances for the Galician outfit. He has also struck three times in 17 league appearances for Celta.
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.