Following a disappointing 1-1 draw against Swansea City at Old Trafford on Sunday, Manchester United face an important and potentially season-defining week.
The next two fixtures could make or break the club’s ambitions this term, with a trip to face Spanish side Celta Vigo first up on Thursday night.
The clash at the Estadio Balaidos is quickly followed by an away day at Arsenal on Sunday, with this build-up of important fixtures set to put Jose Mourinho’s squad to the test.
Ahead of the 2016-17 campaign, the more-optimistic among the Old Trafford faithful would have demanded a title challenge from the Red Devils given the relatively short odds of United becoming champions at gamblingkingz.co.uk.
However, the more reserved supporters would have considered Champions League qualification, with at least one cup triumph, as an ample first season in charge for Mourinho.
While the Premier League title will be a goal for next term, securing a place in Europe’s top club tournament for 2017-18 is United’s major objective as the business end of this campaign rolls around.
Mourinho’s men are currently in fifth place in the domestic standings, a mere point behind cross-town rivals Manchester City, with four games left to play.
However, winning the Europa League may well be the saving grace for United if a top-four Premier League finish cannot be achieved, with the Old Trafford side surely fancying their chances.
Celta are certainly a dangerous opponent but do not have the prestige or quality of some of Europe’s top teams, while the other semi-final participants, Ajax and Lyon, should not represent opponents that the Red Devils cannot negotiate.
The main issue that Mourinho has ahead of the trip to Spain is a catastrophic injury list, with a crux of integral players out of contention.
The problem is worst at centre-half, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all out injured and not in line to return against the La Liga outfit.
This was compounded on Sunday as Eric Bailly limped out of the draw with Swansea, as Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian finished the game at the heart of the United rearguard.
Should the Ivorian not recover in time for the clash against Celta, Darmian may well again play in the unusual role of central defender, while other options include Michael Carrick or Axel Tuanzebe.
Luke Shaw was also injured against Swansea and is a doubt, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is out and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s season is over after surgery.
The Swedish veteran’s unavailability has given young starlet Marcus Rashford the chance to lead the United line, with the sprightly centre forward doing a good job in recent matches.
The England international burst onto the scene last season in the Europa League and looks set to play an important role in the Red Devils’ chances of winning the competition this season.
Rashford has been forced to play in a wide role when Ibrahimovic has been available this season but his position is clearly as a striker – he will pose a threat for United in this role against Celta and for many years to come.
In more positive news for Mourinho’s men, midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini are set to return to contention, with scope for both to start against the La Liga side.
The world’s most-expensive player has been inconsistent since his return to Old Trafford but has shown signs that he can be the talismanic figure to lead the club back to the glory days.
Pogba’s return will be welcomed by the travelling support, with the France international containing the ability to be a match-winner if given time and space on the ball.
Fellaini was sent-off in the recent 0-0 Manchester derby draw against City for a stupid altercation with Sergio Aguero, but will be available to play given the fact that his suspension is to be served in domestic games.
Mourinho favours the physicality of the giant Belgian in big games and the former Everton man is seemingly set to return to the starting XI as the United boss looks to keep things tight in the away leg of the semi-final tie.
Juan Mata was also on the bench for the draw against Swansea, with the Spaniard’s unexpected return to the first-team fold certainly a bonus at this critical part of the season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan started as a substitute against the Welsh side but Mourinho may well consider bring the Armenian back into the team for the midweek clash.
The fixture will be the first time that Celta have ever played in a European semi-final in their history, with a passionate crowd expected at the Estadio Balaidos – the game has been confirmed as a sell-out.
Eduardo Berizzo’s side have done well to get to this stage of the tournament, beating sides such as Genk, Krasnodar, Shakhtar Donetsk and Panathinaikos along the way.
Domestically, Celta sit in 11th place in the La Liga standings and are on a poor run of form, having lost their last three consecutive games.
The Galician side go into the clash with United on the back of a 3-0 home defeat to Athletic Bilbao but their head coach has asked the players to put this result to the back of the heads before facing the English team.
Berizzo made eight changes for the loss to the Basque side, showing that the Spaniards are clearly prioritising European football over their domestic exploits currently.
Mourinho’s men will possibly take heart from the fact that Celta have actually lost four of their last five home games, with Villarreal, Eibar and Real Betis also picking up victories at Balaidos.
Berizzo’s men will surely pose a goal threat however, with their three main attacking weapons all familiar faces to Premier League fans.
Former Liverpool flop Iago Aspas remains Celta’s most-potent offensive star, with the 29-year-old scoring an impressive 17 La Liga goals this season.
The creative attacker was never given a chance to consistently show what he was capable of during his stint at Anfield but has proven his doubters wrong since returning to this homeland.
Celta also have former Manchester City attacker John Guidetti in their offensive ranks, with the Swedish journeyman seemingly settled with the Spanish side.
While the Swede has only scored three goals in the Spanish top flight this term, he will provide a physical presence and predatory element to the home side’s attack.
Finally, ex-United man Giuseppe Rossi has been afforded an opportunity to get back to close to his best at Celta but cruelly ruptured his cruciate ligament recently and as such will not get a chance to play against his former employers.
Once a star with so much potential, the Italy international’s career has been blighted by serious injuries, with some rumours that the latest setback could force him to retire.
Elsewhere in the Celta ranks, Danish midfielders Daniel Wass and Pione Sisto add energy and technique in the heart of the Spanish side, while Argentina international Facundo Roncaglia is another man to watch.
The old cliche of taking each match as it comes may infuriate football fans but it really is true in the case of United.
Arsenal will await the Red Devils ahead of what will be a passionate Premier League affair, but Mourinho nor his players can allow themselves to get distracted by the forthcoming fixture at the Emirates Stadium.
While on paper United have a much stronger XI then Celta, the Balaidos crowd will impose an intimidating atmosphere and the Manchester club will face a driven and determined opponent.
Berizzo will have his players motivated for the game and as such the hosts will most likely come out of the traps at a high pace, with the visitors needing to weather an early storm.
However, with real international quality in the United ranks and stars able to decide a game in an instant, anything other than progression over the course of the two legs would be a massive disappointment.
Mourinho surely would love to take an advantage back to Old Trafford to make the second leg more manageable, especially given the fact that another away day in North London awaits the following weekend – this time against Tottenham Hotspur.
United did not afford themselves such a luxury in the last round, throwing away a one-goal lead away to Anderlecht and consequently needing extra-time in the second leg to progress through to the current stage.
It has not been an easy first season in charge for Mourinho by any means, but there are signs there that United are becoming a more-dogged opponent and re-finding that winning mentality.
To end the campaign by lifting two trophies, with the League Cup already secured, and subsequently qualifying for the Champions League, would be a successful season.
However, for this to happen United need to negotiate a tricky opponent and keep their nerve – the hard work starts now.