MAN UTD 6, AS ROMA 2
A devastating second-half display and ruthless destruction of AS Roma all but booked Manchester United’s place in the final of the Europa League.
The Reds, 2-1 down at half time, hit five goals without reply to blow away the Italian giants in the second period.
United became the first side to score six goals in a major European semi-final since Real Madrid in the European Cup in May 1964.
And there were immense contributions from Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes who each scored two goals and had five assists between them with some of their link-up play a joy to behold.
It was the proverbial match of two halves as United were poor in the opening period and, 2-1 down at the break, had it all to do if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was to avert his semi-final jinx
Solskjaer, who had lost all four cup semi-finals at United, was staring down the barrel of a fifth elimination at the last-four stage.
But it was an altogether different story after the restart as the Italian giants were torn apart in a match reminiscent of their 7-1 defeat on their visit to Old Trafford in 2007-08. In fact it was the first time United has scored six in an European match since that game.
Roma have lost on all four visits to United who have scored 15 goals in those games and conceded three.
And United maintained their brilliant record against Italian sides in Europe – only one loss in 13 games.Embed from Getty Images
Solskjaer had earlier admitted it would be a “dream come true” to win a trophy as their manager.
“Our ambition is to finish the season by lifting a trophy. I know how much that would mean to this group going forward,” he said.
After the handsome victory, he said: “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.
“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.”
On being told pundits Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes would have made midfield changes at half-time: “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 when 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.”
Pogba, also a goalscorer, said: “The result is positive, but it’s not finished. We will have to say focused and play a nice game with the same mentality.
“In the first half we had two mistakes and conceded two goals. We were a bit all over the place after the second goal.
“At half-time we said let’s do the right things, let’s do simple things. The manager spoke. We were all motivated to score as many goals as possible.”
On the penalty decision against him, he said: “Just don’t tackle. I don’t know how to tackle. I try to be the English guy. I need to practise more. I need to practise to tackle without arms. It’s unlucky. I’ve been unlucky a lot this season with penalties.
United made three changes to the side held by Leeds last time out, with David de Gea replacing Dean Henderson in goal, Pogba coming in for Daniel James and Cavani taking over from Mason Greenwood up top.
Chris Smalling, who played 323 games for the Reds, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both returned to Old Trafford to start against their former club, while ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko was also named in the Roma starting line-up.
Roma suffered an early injury blow when French midfielder Jordan Veretout pulled up with a hamstring injury and the former Aston Villa player was forced off.
United made the breakthrough in the ninth minute and, almost inevitably, it was through Fernandes’ 25th goal of the season.
Paul Pogba made a slalom run forward before passing to Cavani whose first touch lay off freed Fernandes who lifted the ball over advancing goalkeeper Pau Lopez.
The joy was short-lived, however, as Pogba was hero turned villain three minutes later when he conceded as penalty for handball as he slid in to block a cross from Rick Karsdorp.
Roma players immediately appealed and after referee Carlos Grande consulted his assistant and a subsequent VAR check the spot kick was confirmed and Lorenzo Pellegrini scored from the spot, his 10th goal of the season.
Unbelievably four of the last penalties United have conceded at Old Trafford have been by Pogba.
Roma lost a second player to injury inside the opening half hour when goalkeeper Lopez hurt his shoulder falling awkwardly after making a smart save to deny Pogba.
There were great deliberations before he reluctantly made way for 37-year-old understudy Antonio Mirante.
And the night got worse for United when Dzeko put Roma ahead in the 34th minute.
Mkhitaryan’s great pass freed Pellegrini whose cross from the left of the box was converted by 35-year-old Dzeko from four yards as he got in-between Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw to slot home from four yards, his 11th goal of the season and sixth at Old Trafford having scored four times for City and once for Wolfsburg.
You had a feeling it might be last man standing for Roma as they, incredibly, lost a third player to injury in the 37th minute when Leonardo Spinazzola limped off.
United had a great chance to equalise in the fourth of five added minutes when a stray pass played across the Roma back line was intercepted by Cavani who was clean through only for Mirante to save well.
And there was another injury scare for Roma when defender Roger Ibanez limped off after the final whistle as he had been hurt after colliding with a team-mate defending a corner with both players requiring treatment as the Italian side’s injury woes continued.
United were level within three minutes of the restart when Cavani scored a screamer, his 11th of the season.
Pogba charged forward and the Cavani played a delightful return pass with Fernandes before bending a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
And midway through the half Cavani made it 12 for the season as United retained the lead.
Ferrnandes released overlapping right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka whose angled shot was only parried by Mirante and Cavani drove home the rebound from six yards.
United went 4-2 ahead with 19 minutes left through a convincing Fernandes penalty, his club record 12th spot kick of the season, after Cavani was taken out by Smalling close to the by-line.
And the night got better when Pogba headed home a fifth goal in the 75th minute with Fernandes providing the assist with a pinpoint cross.
As soon as the goal went in, United made their first change with Marcus Rashford making way for Greenwood soon followed by Fred making way for Nemanja Matic.
Greenwood made it six with four minutes left, after Cavani provided the assist with a raking crossfield pass as he rifled home his 10th goal of the season with the aid of two deflections.
Fernandes was replaced by Juan Mata in the 89th minute, his night’s work done and United in a commanding position for next week’s return in the Italian capital.