In the aftermath of Celta Vigo’s cancelled match with Real Madrid in February, when a storm ripped through the roof at their Balaídos stadium and accusations flew, their coach, Eduardo Berizzo, protested: “I still can’t make it rain.” No, some supporters suggested, but there is plenty you can do.
The team that beat Barcelona three years in a row, putting four past them the last two times they visited Vigo, had after all just deservedly knocked Madrid out of the Copa del Rey to reach the semi‑finals. Now they have reached a Europa League semi-final against Manchester United.
“To do anything, you have to imagine it first,” Berizzo insists and he says his players have convinced him that Celta can “do something important” – but few imagined this. Although they were defeated in the cup by Alavés, denied the chance to face Barcelona in the final just as happened last year when they had defeated Atlético Madrid but fell to Sevilla, this is some achievement.
In June 2009, a late goal from a 21-year-old substitute rescued Celta from relegation to Spain’s regionalised third tier; on Thursday they head to Old Trafford. Iago Aspas, formerly of Liverpool, has been there before, but his team have not.
Celta have never won anything, although they have been beaten in three finals, and they certainly have never been in a European semi-final. Last week, they got there before anyone else, their meeting with Genk the only quarter-final that did not go to extra time.
There were still six potential opponents as they started heading out of the stadium. “Whoever we face, we’ll go for them,” the centre-back Andreu Fontàs said.
It is very much their way. In the autumn of 2014, Celta beat Barcelona 1-0 at the Camp Nou, riding their luck a little, but the following year they hammered them 4-1 at Balaídos, and the year after defeated them 4-3.
All over the pitch they suffocated Luis Enrique’s team, going for the throat. “When Barcelona don’t have the ball, they’re not Barcelona and every robbery was an automatic attack,” Berizzo said.
That line broadly sums up Celta’s style even if, as the season has gone on, it has been adapted, the coach talking about playing with “intelligence” and a touch of pragmatism sneaking in.