Manchester United produced a scintillating second-half fightback to put one foot in the Europa League final with a thrilling 6-2 semi-final first-leg victory over Roma at Old Trafford.
United’s semi-final curse under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked set to continue when Lorenzo Pellegrini’s penalty and Edin Dzeko’s sixth Old Trafford goal cancelled out Bruno Fernandes’ brilliant opener to hand Roma two away goals before half-time.
United looked shell-shocked and out of ideas but wrestled back control with a devastating attacking display as Edinson Cavani’s double, Fernandes’ second from the penalty spot, Paul Pogba’s header and Mason Greenwood’s sixth saw them score five unanswered goals.
Roma, who were forced into three substitutions before the interval due to injury, grew wearier with each passing minute and were fortunate to escape Old Trafford without conceding seven like they did in 2007, though that will come as little consolation to Paulo Fonseca’s side as their hopes of reaching the final were effectively ended.
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (5), Lindelof (6), Maguire (7), Shaw (7), McTominay (7), Fred (6), Rashford (6), Fernandes (9), Pogba (8), Cavani (9).
Subs: Greenwood (7), Mata (n/a), Matic (n/a).
Roma: Pau Lopez (4), Smalling (5), Cristante (6), Ibanez (5), Karsdorp (7), Diawara (6), Veretout (3), Spinazzola (7), Pellegrini (7), Mkhitaryan (6), Dzeko (7).
Subs: Mirante (5), Villar (5), Bruno Peres (5).
Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani.
Ruthless United put Roma to the sword
Roma lost midfielder Jordan Veretout to injury inside five minutes and, four minutes later, United grabbed the initiative with a breakthrough goal which oozed class and quality.
Pogba skipped around two Roma challenges before feeding the ball up to Cavani who, with his back to goal, released Fernandes with a first-time pass which the Portuguese lifted delicately and devastatingly over on-rushing goalkeeper Pau Lopez.
- David de Gea, Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani returned as Man Utd made three changes from the goalless draw at Leeds.
- Chris Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko started as Paulo Fonseca made seven changes following Roma’s 3-2 defeat at Cagliari.
United’s perfect start lasted barely five minutes, with Pogba harshly penalised for handball while sliding in to block Rick Karsdorp’s cross. The Frenchman deflected the ball onto his arm at close proximity, but the referee stuck with his decision, handing Roma captain Pellegrini the chance to score an away goal, which he took emphatically.
Roma’s injury problems worsened on 25 minutes as goalkeeper Pau Lopez was forced off with a suspected dislocated shoulder seconds after parrying Pobga’s drive from the edge of the box. Veteran 37-year-old stopper Antonio Mirante came off the bench, but Roma’s concerns soon turned to joy as they took control of the tie.
The lively Leonardo Spinazzola made inroads down the left flank, shifted the ball inside to former United forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan who released Pellegrini in behind, and he squared for Dzeko to bundle in his customary Old Trafford goal.
Spinazzola became the third Roma player forced off through injury, a setback which didn’t look to have derailed the Italians until the stroke of half-time, when Cavani intercepted centre-back Ibanez’s wayward pass, but the Uruguayan was thwarted by Mirante in goal before Amadou Diawara blocked his follow-up shot.
United re-emerged from the break reinvigorated and needed just three minutes to draw level, with Cavani wrapping a clinical effort into the top corner of the Roma goal having held up play and exchanged passes with Fernandes.
The goal marked to start of a period of domination from Solskjaer’s side, with Cavani restoring United’s lead with a tap-in after Roma goalkeeper Mirante spilled Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s drive.
Three became four on 71 minutes when former United defender Chris Smalling was penalised for a late foul on Cavani in the area, and Fernandes confidently converted his 20th penalty in United colours.
With Roma out on their feet, Pogba glanced in a header from Fernandes’ inch-perfect cross and there was still time for substitute Greenwood to get in on the act with a deflected sixth which ensured a once-promising night for Roma ended with more Old Trafford misery and left United on the brink of another Europa League final.
United rip Roma to shreds again – Match stats
- Manchester United are first side to score six in the semi-final of a major European competition since May 1964 when Real Madrid beat FC Zurich 6-0 in the European Cup 2nd Leg.
- Manchester United scored six goals in a single match in European competition for the first time since netting seven against Roma in April 2007.
- Roma are the first Italian side to ship six goals in the semi-final of a European competition.
- Roma became the first side to make three substitutions in the first-half of a UEFA Europa League game (since 2009).
- Bruno Fernandes netted his 25th and 26th goals of the season in all competitions, with Harry Kane (31) and Mohamed Salah (29) the only two Premier League players to score more.
- Bruno Fernandes (20) is only the third player in Manchester United’s history to score 20+ penalties, after Ruud van Nistelrooy (28) and Wayne Rooney (27).
- Three of the last four penalties Manchester United have conceded in all competitions have been given away by Paul Pogba, while the Frenchman has conceded four of their last six at Old Trafford.
What the managers said…
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “The job is not done, but it was a job well done. Roma have got quality, scored two goals with their two chances we gave them in the first half, but I was very pleased with the response. The second half was very good.
“We know we’ve got creative players; it’s about getting them up there in good positions. We took most of our chances, I am very pleased. The character showed, the players didn’t lose their heads.
“For five minutes at the end of the first half we didn’t look great, but we managed to get ourselves together. The two goals were down to very schoolboy errors, they should happen at this level, we said that at half-time and corrected it.”
Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca: “It’s a heavy defeat. We had a good first half, but we didn’t exist in the second. It’s difficult to explain how the same team that did so well in the first half had that kind of second half. It’s hard to play against a side like United without having the substitutions [to make in the second half].
“Even the Manchester United coach was very honest [about Smalling’s tackle on Cavani] and didn’t think it was a penalty either. I really didn’t think it as a penalty. It was a decisive moment in the game and it was tough to take.”
Man of the Match – Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani made it 50 goals in major European competition (15 in Europa League, 35 in Champions League), with the Manchester United attacker, at 34 years and 74 days, the oldest player to score a brace at the semi-final stage or beyond in major European competition since Philip Cocu (34y 187d) for PSV vs Milan in the Champions League semi-finals in 2004-05.
Manchester United host Liverpool on Super Sunday at 4.30pm – live on Sky Sports Premier League – while Roma travel to Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday at 7.45pm. United then travel to Rome for their Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday at 8pm.