Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani each scored twice as Manchester United thrashed an injury-riddled Roma 6-2 at Old Trafford to close in on the Europa League final.
United are aiming to get to a final after suffering four semi-final defeats in the past two seasons.
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But only a second leg collapse will prevent them from facing Villarreal or Arsenal in Gdansk on Wednesday, May 26 after a stunning second-half performance on Friday morning AEDT.
The home side trailed at the break as Lorenzo Pellegrini’s penalty and Edin Dzeko’s tap-in cancelled out Fernandes’ early opener.
But the Italians lost three players to injury before halftime and United took full advantage.
Two predatory finishes from Cavani turned the tie around before Fernandes also fired home from the spot.
Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood rounded off the scoring as United became the first team to score six goals in a European semi-final since Real Madrid in 1964.
“Very pleased with the response,” Solskjaer said. “Second half we were very good.”
Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United.Source:Getty Images
With United realistically out of the Premier League title race, but also almost certain to secure a top-four finish, Solskjaer named his strongest available side as he aims to end a four-year trophy drought for the Red Devils.
The combination play between Pogba, Fernandes and Cavani consistently cut the Roma defence apart as they only marginally avoided a repeat of the 7-1 hammering they suffered at Old Trafford in the 2006/07 Champions League quarter-finals.
“We know we’ve got creative players, players who can create big chances, score goals, it’s about getting them in the positions,” Solskjaer added.
“Marcus (Rashford), Bruno, Paul, Edinson are all capable. The difference today is we took most of our chances.”
In contrast to the vast majority of games this season, United came flying out the blocks and led after just nine minutes.
Pogba and Cavani teed up Fernandes, who dinked the ball over the advancing Pau Lopez for his 25th goal of the season.
Sitting seventh in Serie A, this competition represented Roma’s last realistic chance to qualify for the Champions League next season and they reacted like a side whose season depended on it.
Injuries decimate Roma
Jordan Veretout and Lopez had hobbled off injured in the first half and Leonardo Spinazzola followed before the break, leaving Roma without the chance to make any further substitutions in the second half.
“We had a good first half but we didn’t exist in the second,” Roma coach Paulo Fonseca told Sky Sport.
“It’s difficult to explain how the same team that did so well in the first half had that kind of second half.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Roma battles for possession with Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United.Source:Getty Images
Chris Smalling had a night to forget on his return to Old Trafford, but was harshly penalised when he clashed with Cavani as a ball flashed across the Roma goal.
Fernandes was clinical from the spot to give United breathing space. The Portuguese turned provider for Pogba to power home a header 15 minutes from time.
And Greenwood landed the final blow as he rounded off a counter-attack thanks to some more weak goalkeeping by Mirante.
Bittersweet victory for Emery
Unai Emery won his big reunion with Arsenal but 2-1 might prove a small reward for Villarreal, who failed to take advantage of Dani Ceballos being sent off in a frantic Europa League semi-final first leg.
Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol gave Villarreal a dream start at La Ceramica and the tie looked to be slipping away from Arsenal when Ceballos was shown a second yellow card early in the second half.
But 10-man Arsenal rallied and grabbed an away goal when Nicolas Pepe converted a penalty in the 73rd minute, before Villarreal’s Etienne Capoue also saw red with 10 minutes left to play.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will be delighted his team are not just in the contest but in a healthy position too, with an away goal to take back to London next week.
“It changes completely the tie. It makes a huge difference,” Arteta said.
“We know we are there, we have to be better and if we are we will have the chance to be in the final.”
Villarreal midfielder Francis Coquelin challenges Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe.Source:AFP
Emery will take comfort from the fact that they were the better side for the best part of an hour, even before Ceballos was dismissed.
“Things went for us and against us but we have to keep believing,” Emery said.
“It was a difficult challenge before the match and it’s still difficult. But with everything on the table, we have won, we have the advantage.”
Emery said on Wednesday he would always have a “place in his heart” for Arsenal, despite a turbulent 18 months in charge of the club before he was sacked in 2019.
He might also look on with little envy at his successor Arteta, who is under pressure now to win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League, with Arsenal sitting 10th in the Premier League table and nowhere near the top four.
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