United delivered the model European away performance in Rome on Tuesday– strong in possession, resilient during the inevitable Roma backlash, and ruthlessly scoring two away goals.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney did the damage, presenting the Reds with a glorious opportunity to make the Champions League semi finals later this month. But, take note, the job is only half done. Roma weren’t without their chances, and they will come to Old Trafford in a week’s time knowing they’re up against it, but not out of it.
This wasn’t the all-out attacking United of Saturday’s 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa, but it was the kind of performance Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have sometimes lacked away from home in Europe in recent years.
The United boss made a few changes from Saturday's win. He was able to select Michael Carrick despite the midfielder sitting out training in Rome the night before. There was a recall for Ji-sung Park (his first European start this season) in place of Ryan Giggs, and Carlos Tevez settled for a place on the bench as Anderson made up a three-man central midfield alongside Carrick and Paul Scholes.
Luciano Spalletti, Roma’s coach, said that his players would not just stand and admire a team he regards as “the best in the world”. Their 7-1 defeat at this stage last year is clearly a wound that has not yet healed. So much so that Spalletti threatened not to present Sir Alex with a bottle of his favourite Tuscan wine after the game – “no more gifts, on or off the pitch,” he said, half jokingly.
Roma, without the suspended Simone Perrotta and the injured Francesco Totti, were perhaps not at full strength, but their team ethic meant that they still pose a potent threat to United's hopes of reaching the semi finals.
The Reds had hoped to avoid an English opponent at this stage, but nevertheless drew a familiar foe –