Report: Roma 3 Manchester United 2
Manchester United had mixed emotions on Thursday evening - ultimately delight at reaching the 2021 UEFA Europa League final with an 8-5 aggregate victory but also some disappointment after slipping to a rare defeat, 3-2 to Roma on the night.
Following our 6-2 triumph against the Serie A last week, the Reds had a solid advantage going into the semi-final return leg in the Italian capital.
However, that did not stop the encounter at Stadio Olimpico from becoming a highly entertaining one. Roma opened the game with the majority of the chances but it was Edinson Cavani who scored the only goal of the first half as United went into the break 1-0 up. After the interval, around the hour mark, quick-fire goals from Edin Dzeko and Bryan Cristante put Roma ahead on the night before our Uruguayan goal machine equalised midway through the second half with an unstoppable header.
Nicola Zalewski won the game for Roma with five minutes to play but there was no stopping Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men from making it through to the final. United will battle it out with Villareal for the trophy in Gdansk on 26 May, following the Spanish side's 2-1 aggregate win over Arsenal.
The Reds, lining up in the black-and-white third kit, were immediately put under pressure by the hosts, who of course were looking to diminish our advantage from the start. Following a set-piece in the third minute, midfielder Gianluca Mancini fired a shot on target from close range but was denied by a brilliant right-hand save by David De Gea. Just moments later, former Manchester City forward Dzeko headed inches wide, after making space for himself at the back post.
Following the initial domination by the Giallorossi, United got more of a foothold in the game and started to play around Roma’s box. However, in the 17th minute, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was booked for a late challenge on Bruno Peres.
Cavani, who of course scored twice in the first leg, hit the bar when Fred lofted a ball into the box behind the Roma defence. Our Uruguayan frontman lobbed the ball over Antonio Mirante in the home side’s net but, unfortunately, the attempt hit the top of the bar and went out for a goal-kick.
The 34-year-old went close again in the 25th minute after Bruno Fernandes picked out our no.7 with an excellent through-ball. One on one with Mirante, from the right side of a penalty area, Cavani smashed the ball towards goal but the powerful effort was saved by the veteran between Roma’s posts.
Just before the half-hour mark, former Reds defender Chris Smalling had to be substituted with an injury, and was replaced by Ebrima Darboe.
Another ex-United player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, then performed a diving header but the Armenian’s attempt went wide of De Gea’s post. Our no. 1 was soon brought into action again. First, he denied Lorenzo Pellegirini’s driven strike from the left of the box before standing firm to hold onto a headed attempt from Mancini, although the replay showed the Italian was offside.
Then, in the 39th minute, Cavani showcased his immense finishing quality as he put United ahead after a well-worked attack. Two delightful touches from Fernandes and the Uruguayan in the build-up were followed by a precise pass from Fred which sent our no.7 through on goal. He was never going to miss for a third time and the 34-year-old fired Ole’s Reds in front with a devastating finish to make it 1-0 to United on the night and 7-2 on aggregate. The strike was Cavani’s fourth in four Europa League appearances this season and his 13th of the campaign overall.
A few minutes later, Mason Greenwood, on his 100th United appearance, performed his trademark step-over dribble before dragging a shot just wide of the right-hand post.
De Gea then stopped an attempt from Mkhitaryan before Fernandes had the last two chances of the half. As we approached 45 minutes, the Portuguese magnifico attempted a spectacular scorpion kick but missed the ball. In first-half stoppage time, the playmaker fired a shot wide of the post following a lay-off from Cavani at the edge of the box.
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Ole opted for a double substitution at half-time with Alex Telles and Brandon Williams replacing Luke Shaw and the booked Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The hosts had the first chance after the interval, with Dzeko testing De Gea but once again the Spaniard was quick to react.
However, there was little the 30-year-old could do to deny Dzeko from scoring the equaliser in the 57th minute. A ball across United’s area was volleyed back in by former Chelsea player Pedro. The Spaniard’s volleyed cross found the 35-year-old centre-forward inside the Reds’ six-yard box and from there the Bosnian made no mistake and equalised.
Just three minutes later, Roma went ahead. Pellegrini won the ball back from Fred just outside our area and Cristante smashed the home side in front with a powerful strike into the top corner.
Roma had found a formula to break down the Reds' defence and only the brilliance of De Gea prevented the home side from scoring further goals after their quick-fire double. Our goalkeeper denied Pedro, Dzeko and Mkhitaryan from inside the box within two minutes and United avoided going further behind in Rome.
The Reds’ first opportunity after the break came in the 64th minute. Greenwood then had a great chance to score our eighth goal of the tie but fired wide after being pressured to shoot by the offensive Mirante.
Then, in the 68th minute, Cavani all but booked our trip to the final in Gdansk with another ruthless finish. Fernandes sent in a perfectly timed cross for the Uruguayan to head in the equaliser which put the Reds 8-4 up on aggregate with 20 minutes to go. After his second brace against the Giallorossi, and a booking, the 34-year-old signed off for the night when he was replaced by Marcus Rashford.
Mkhitaryan hit the post moments after Rashford’s introduction before Roma substitute Nicola Zalewski restored his side's lead at 3-2 with a volley which deflected off Alex Telles between the legs of De Gea. That strike, in the 83rd minute, proved to be the 13th and last goal of a highly entertaining semi-final tie as United booked our place in the Europa League final.
Roma: Mirante; Karsdorp, Smalling (Darboe 30), Ibanez, Bruno Peres (Santon 69); Cristante, Mancini; Pedro (Zalewski 77), Pellegrini (c), Mkhitaryan; Dzeko (Mayoral 77).
Goals: Dzeko 57, Cristante 60, Zalewski 83.
Subs not used: Boer, Fuzato, Kumbulla, Bove, Ciervo.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka (Williams 46), Bailly, Maguire (c), Shaw (Alex Telles 46); Fred, van de Beek; Greenwood, Fernandes (Mata 84), Pogba (Matic 64); Cavani (Rashford 73).
Subs not used: Grant, Henderson, Lindelof, Tuanzebe, Amad, McTominay, Elanga.
Goals: Cavani 39, 68.
Bookings: Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Cavani.