After overcoming Granada in the quarter-finals of the competition in comfortable fashion, Manchester United will be hoping for a similarly simple result against a side with far more European football pedigree.
United are back in Europa League action this Thursday with AS Roma travelling to Old Trafford for the first leg of the semi-final. The Italian side are all that stands between Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his first ever cup final since taking over from the now unemployed Jose Mourinho.
This is another game you can imagine Solskjær describing as being Champions League worthy and understandably so considering they were just one of the teams his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, had to beat on route to securing his second winners medal in the competition.
However, both sides status in the game has since dwindled with sustained European and domestic success proving hard to come by for a variety of reasons.
The match will be televised on BT Sport for British viewers and will kick off at 20:00. The referee will be Spanish official, Carlos del Cerro Grande with fellow compatriot, Alejandro Hernández, in charge of VAR for the evening.
A form guide
Aside from a largely uneventful goalless draw at Elland Road vs Leeds United on Sunday, The Reds have been in fine form picking up five wins and one draw since the international break. They’ve scored goals aplenty while keeping things mostly tight at the back.
The return to goalscoring form of forwards Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani has gone a long way to helping United progress domestically and on the continent. The duo have scored a combined eight goals in their last seven games to help push their side to secure a 2nd place finish and a place in the final four of the Europa League.
At the very least, Solskjær’s men will want to repay the faith he’s put in them throughout the season after a shaky start to help reach his first ever final and hopefully go one step further to win the trophy.Embed from Getty Images
Roma’s fortunes in Serie A differ greatly to those of their opponents as they sit in 7th place and look highly unlikely to finish anywhere near the Champions League spots for next season. Therefore, placing far greater pressure on the I Giallorossi to win the competition in order to reach Europe’s premier competition.
Nonetheless, Paulo Fonseca will also place a high level of importance as silverware may be the only thing that could save his job. The Romans will be up against it however, having won a meagre two games in their previous eight, conceding two or more on four occasions.
The two sides have encountered each other six times previously in UEFA competitions, all within the space of 12 months between April 2007 and April 2008. All previous meetings came in the Champions League including one of United’s finest European nights in which they defeated their Italian counterparts 7-1 after losing 2-1 in the first leg of the quarter-final.
United will be firm favourites considering their far superior form and position in their respective domestic leagues. Furthermore, they have only ever lost once to Roma in the aforementioned tie they eventually went on to win with ease.
Despite this, knockout football is highly unpredictable and anything can happen across the 180 minutes of football. Considering the Italian side’s previous history of European shocks (see Barcelona 2018), the Reds would be wise not to rest on their laurels and ensure they treat their opponents with the utmost respect.
Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay will once again be available for selection in the competition after serving one match suspensions in the second leg win over Granada. Additionally, both clubs may further benefit as all yellow cards from previous rounds in the tournament have been erased meaning a booking is unlikely to be fatal and result in players missing the final.
Aside from the obvious absentees of Anthony Martial and Phil Jones, Solskjær will have a full roster to choose from.
Fonseca’s squad is depleted with injuries to ex-Chelsea winger, Pedro, Riccardo Calafiori and Nicolo Zaniolo. The Portuguese will also be without suspended centre-back, Gianluca Mancini, but will be boosted by the return of former United player and Europa League winner, Chris Smalling. The England international made his comeback at the weekend in their loss to 17th placed, Cagliari.
Ones to watch
Paul Pogba could be the player to unlock the door to the final of the tournament after playing an influential role in getting his side this far. The Frenchman changed the game in the last-sixteen second leg against AC Milan after coming on as a half-time substitute and will no doubt look to inflict further damage on yet another Italian side’s defence with his dribbling, line-breaking passes and eye for goal.Embed from Getty Images
Bruno Fernandes is another who will be looking to make an impact having been named in the ‘Team of the Round’ for the quarter-final stage of the competition. United’s no.18 has proved to be the difference maker in several games this season hitting 38 goal contributions in 51 games, 4 of which came in his 6 Europa League appearances.
AS Roma will be looking to use another ex-United player in Henrikh Mkhitaryan to wreak havoc on the Red Devils’ backline. The Armenian forward is their key creative threat and will be looking to add to his impressive season’s tally of 11 goals and 11 assists.
The likely centre-back pairing of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire will also have to keep a keen eye on the tournament’s joint top goalscorer and former Real Madrid player, Borja Mayoral. The 24-year-old has scored 7 goals in 12 games in the Europa League.
More Milan, less Granada
This fixture is likely to prove a tighter affair despite the differences in each team’s domestic seasons. Ole and co will be preparing his squad for a test that resembles the Milan round of sixteen tie as opposed to the more comfortable quarter-final result.
On the contrary, the Norwegian will no doubt have unrelenting faith in his players to carry out a performance that sets them up to progress to his first final in charge of the club where all his footballing dreams came true.