Unfortunately for Roma, the second leg is still to come. At least it’s in Rome. But still, that game is now little more than a formality after this first leg of the Europa League semi-final. Manchester United put in an inspired second half display to score five and all but book their place in May's final in Gdansk.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may just have broke the semi-final hoodoo that has been with him on four of these occasions since taking over as United manager. He will have liked what he saw after the interval as his players dished out the best 45 minutes of Solskjaer’s reign.
Story of the game
A moment of high quality arrived in the ninth minute when United mastered a fine move which resulted in them taking the lead. It started with a throw-in on the left to Paul Pogba, who spun and weaved his way into the centre of the pitch, just outside the area. A quick pass to Edinson Cavani was then fed into the path of Bruno Fernandes, who finished the move with a lifted effort over the diving Pau Lopez.
Going behind compounded Roma’s deflating start to the game which also saw midfielder Jordan Veretout pulling his hamstring in the second minute and forced off shortly afterwards. It was a desperate opening 10 minutes for the Italian side but one from which they did recover.
It was during their first meaningful attack that Rick Karsdorp raced Pogba towards the byline, both slid as Karsdorp tried to send in a cross and the United midfielder attempted to block it. The ball struck Pogba’s hip before bouncing off his elevated arm, which was in an unnatural position. Referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande spotted the handball and pointed to the spot, from which Lorenzo Pellegrini smashed in the leveller.
The equaliser had come out of the blue after United’s comfortable start, Roma had barely been able to string a few passes together. Solskjaer’s side tried to re-establish themselves with Fernandes shooting wide and Pogba bending an effort which brought a diving save from Lopez. The Roma goalkeeper, however, landed awkwardly and seemingly dislocated his shoulder. His evening was over and on came veteran Antonio Mirante in his place.
Still, Roma’s set-backs didn’t stop them and with their second effort on target, the visitors took a shock lead. Leonardo Spinazzola was allowed to carry the ball down the left flank, his first attempted cross was blocked so he passed in-field to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The former Arsenal winger played a lovely blind pass through Scott McTominay’s legs to Pellegrini, who was played onside by Luke Shaw.
Now in a promising position, Pellegrini squared along the six-yard area for Edin Dzeko to slide in and push the ball into David De Gea’s goal. It was quite a turn around for the Romans while United were somehow behind having seen far more of the ball than their visitors. Yet, they could have gone into the break level when Roger Ibanez’s careless square pass along the Roma area was intercepted by Cavani but his shot was saved by Mirante while his rebound was blocked.
A rejuvenated United emerged for the second half and took the game, and possibly tie, away from Roma with four goals in half an hour. The first came from a break with Pogba moving forward before passing to Cavani, who exchanged a one-two with Fernandes, before finishing first time high into the Roma goal.
Cavani could have swiftly had a second when he lifted a Shaw cross over the crossbar, but the Uruguayan had his brace soon enough. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s low shot was fumbled by Mirante and the ball fell at the feet of Cavani who tapped in to give United the lead once more. “Keep the tempo high,” Solskjaer shouted from the sidelines, and his players did just that.
They were helped by a slightly dubious penalty awarded by the referee when Chris Smalling clipped Cavani’s heels in the area but the ball had already passed the pair. Still Cavani tumbled and Fernandes fired the penalty past Mirante.
More was to come when Pogba headed Fernandes’s caressed delivery into the net with a flick for United’s fifth. Then substitute Mason Greenwood dispatched a low right-footed shot to put the tie to bed in all but name.
Roma players were on their haunches by this stage; from a first half lead to this! It had been some performance in the second half by United and, with a four goal advantage, they will almost certainly be in next month’s final.