Manchester United produced a stunning second-half display to see-off an injury-hit Roma side at Old Trafford on Thursday night, to all but secure their place in the Europa League final.
The Red Devils made a lightning start at Old Trafford, Bruno Fernandes rounding off a delightful team goal, before the hosts then gifted the Serie A side a way back into the match, midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini converting from the spot following a handball by Pogba inside the box, the ball striking the Frenchman’s arm as he slid in to try and block a Rick Karsdorp pull back.
The World Cup winner then produced a fine effort to draw a save from ‘keeper Pau Lopez, the Argentine stopper subsequently being withdrawn to add to the early substitution of the injured Jordan Veretout.
Despite those setbacks, it was the Italian side who edged in front, the hosts stung by a few familiar faces on 33 minutes. Former United playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan slid the ball beautifully into the path of Pellegrini inside the box, with the midfielder putting the ball on a plate for former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko to bundle the ball home from close range.
The away side then lost another player to injury, this time the influential Leonardo Spinazzola, although it was United who looked the side most unsettled, with Cavani squandering what was a rare gilt-edged opportunity just before the break.
After a disappointing first-half, the hosts were simply ruthless in the second period, Cavani atoning for that miss with a thumping finish just after the interval, before adding his second of the night on 64 minutes, the prolific poacher tapping home from close range after a poor parry from substitute Antonio Mirante.
The United striker then earned his side a dubious penalty after a fairly innocuous challenge from former United man Chris Smalling at the near post, with Fernandes duly converting from the spot, with Solskjaer’s men extending their lead once again just minutes later, Fernandes whipping in a delightful cross for teammate Pogba to header home.
The hosts all but secured their place in the final by adding a sixth with less than five minutes to go, Mason Greenwood latching on to a sublime Cavani through ball and slotting home via a deflection off an unfortunate Mirante.
Edinson Cavani’s game by numbers vs. AS Roma:
89% pass accuracy
7 shots [4 on target]
5 chances created
4 ball recoveries
1 penalty won
Class is permanent. 👏 pic.twitter.com/AZjaBCuTJF
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 29, 2021
While they couldn’t go on to match the seven they scored against the Italian side at Old Trafford back in 2007, that second-half blitz is surely enough to ensure progression to the showpiece in Gdansk, although Solskjaer admitted his side won’t be getting heading of themselves.
“No I don’t feel the job is done but it was a good job done. We did well but we know they have quality,” Solskjaer told BT Sport.
“They scored two goals from the two chances we gave them. They didn’t have loads of chances against Ajax.
“The second half was very good.”
The Red Devils below-par first-half had led to calls from BT Sport pundits Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes for the Norwegian to make changes to his midfield at half-time, although the United boss hit back and insisted that he’d made the right selection choices.
“It’s easy up there thinking who should play… but who should not play?”
“That’s a very good team, it worked really good against Tottenham. Mason Greenwood should be disappointed not to be playing but it’s about balance. Maybe those two should try to leave players out and pick a team with balance.
“We know we have got creative players who can create big moments. Paul Pogba’s position today was very good in that position, he’s allowed some freedom. He’s got the foundation behind him. The difference today is we took most of our chances.
“The character showed that they came back and didn’t lose their heads. Maybe five or 10 minutes at the end of the first half, we didn’t look great but we got ourselves together. The two goals are junior, schoolboy errors that shouldn’t happen at this level.”
Manchester United are next in action against bitter rivals Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday, before the second-leg at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night.