Manchester United produced a stunning second half performance to defeat Roma 6-2 in Thursday night’s Europa League semi-final first leg.
Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes both netted twice as Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood also got themselves on the scoresheet in a memorable victory.
Boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who led his side to a fifth semi-final in two seasons but is aiming for a first final – made two key selection choices with David De Gea preferred to Dean Henderson as goalkeeper with Cavani starting upfront with Greenwood a substitute.
It puts United in a position of supreme authority going into next week’s second leg in Rome, with the Serie A side needing to score four goals without reply.
Here are five talking points from the game.
Fernandes the main man again
Bruno Fernandes has been Manchester United ’s talisman since joining the club from Sporting CP in January 2020.
This is his fourth semi-final with the club and tonight saw his third and fourth goals in those fixtures, as he once again showed he was the man for the main occasion.
It was a performance not only of pure class – with the Portuguese star showcasing his tremendous natural talent – but also one of on-field leadership, inspiring those around him and pulling the strings.
Fernandes also provided the assists for the third and fifth goals in a virtuoso performance.
Solskjaer’s faith paid off
With his side trailing 2-1 at half-time and showing little attacking threat during most of the first half, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was under pressure to make changes at the break.
Was it really necessary to leave both Scott McTominay and Fred on the pitch? Could Mason Greenwood or Dan James be introduced to add pace and directness to the attack?
Despite strong suggestions that Solskjaer should alter his approach at the break, he showed faith in his starting line-up and it paid off spectacularly.
Four unanswered goals were the perfect anecdote from a sluggish and sleepy first-half, with United asserting their dominance over the Italians.
United win from behind – again
Manchester United have won a remarkable 28 points in the Premier League from losing positions this season and they showed their mental strength and self-belief tonight.
As has often been the case, United trailed at the break following an ineffectual first half but clicked into top gear in the second period.
Not only did United turn the game around, but they put their foot on the accelerator to truly take the game away from Roma.
Just as with the 9-0 win at home to Southampton and 6-2 at home to Leeds, the side showed that they want to push through their authority and show no mercy.
Cavani much more than just a poacher
Much of the debate around the future of Edinson Cavani has centred on his goalscoring ability and with two goals tonight – his penalty-box instincts are clear for all to see.
However, there is much more to the Uruguayan’s game than just finishing off chances and he proved once more how important he is to United’s build-up play.
The 34-year-old provided a sumptuous assist for the opener from Bruno Fernandes as part of a slick attacking move; receiving the ball from Paul Pogba before feeding it perfectly into the path of the Uruguayan.
He drops deep in build-up play and has a clear connection with United’s attacking unit; acting as a focal point and for others to run and move around – with his assist for Mason Greenwood’s goal and United’s sixth sensational.
With each passing game, it is becoming increasingly crucial for the Red Devils to hold onto the veteran striker beyond this season.
Smalling’s unhappy Old Trafford return
Chris Smalling clocked up over 300 appearances in almost a decade at Manchester United, before joining Roma in 2019 and making the move permanent the following year.
The 31-year-old was given a new lease of life by his move to Italy – even earning him the nickname of ‘Smalldini’ as a tribute to Paolo Maldini – but he was given a torrid time upon his return to Old Trafford.
Smalling was booked for a late challenge on Paul Pogba, then was responsible for felling Edinson Cavani for the penalty for United’s fourth goal and lost Pogba from his marking for the home side’s fifth.
It was a second half attacking storm from the hosts, but Smalling and Roma were not able to handle it.
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