Last week’s crushing success at Old Trafford sees Manchester United with one foot in the final, as they visit downtrodden Roma in their Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday.
The two clubs convene at Stadio Olimpico having prepared in far from ideal circumstances, as United saw their weekend game called off amid chaotic scenes and the hosts slumped to a third successive defeat – leading to their manager’s departure.
After an unconvincing first-half performance last Thursday, both Bruno Fernandes and evergreen frontman Edinson Cavani (now on 50 goals in European competition) bagged braces as Manchester United came from behind to destroy Roma and effectively seal their place in the Europa League final.
Though the final 6-2 scoreline did not equal United’s infamous 7-1 Champions League thrashing of the same opponents back in 2007 – a game in which current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a substitute – the margin of victory was as impressive as their second-half display.
Should they get across the line in Rome this week, Solskjaer will be relieved to break a run of four successive semi-final defeats during his relatively brief reign – including last season’s one-off tie with Sevilla. Undoubtedly, the Red Devils are now firm favourites to lift their first trophy since 2017’s final success under incoming Roma manager Jose Mourinho – with only Villarreal or Arsenal left standing in their way.
Following the controversy arising from trying to break away from the current structures of European football a fortnight ago, further fan unrest resulted in United’s long-awaited Premier League game versus Liverpool being postponed on Sunday afternoon – after over 200 fans broke into Old Trafford, protesting against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club.
However, despite the disruption, Solskjaer’s men will now have essentially enjoyed a full week’s break between home and away ties, so integral players such as the inspirational Fernandes – who has registered a remarkable 19 goals from 31 previous Europa League outings – should be fully fit and firing in the Eternal City.
With a four-goal deficit to make up on Thursday – an improbable ask at the best of times – tailspinning Roma approach their forbidding task deep in the midst of their worst form of the season and with their leader forced to make a premature exit from the club.
Since the Europa League’s return in February, Italy’s last side standing in Europe have hit a severe domestic downturn – with last Sunday’s 2-0 reverse at mid-table Sampdoria following on from a 3-2 defeat against relegation battlers Cagliari. Coming after previously losing to Torino – another team at the wrong end of Serie A – embattled coach Paulo Fonseca had apparently gone all-in on going all the way in Europe.
How events unfolded in Manchester last week means that such plans to save their season have backfired spectacularly, with Fonseca’s exit being confirmed earlier this week, as former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho now waits in the wings.
Earlier this week, defender Gianluca Mancini admitted that Roma deserved to lose both of their last two games and issued an apology to the club’s fans – who saw dreams of a first European final in 30 years dashed in the space of 45 chaotic minutes.
The Italy international also noted that missing several first-team players of late has played a part in Roma’s demise – in fact, they became the first team ever to make three substitutions in the first half of a Europa League game, following a succession of injuries at Old Trafford.
After their trip to Theatre of Dreams resulted only in nightmares, the Giallorossi’s weekend loss also meant that they have now won just one of their last nine league matches on the road. Fortunately, Roma have fared much better at the Olimpico – they rank fourth in Serie A at home, compared to 12th away – so some hope of redemption remains.
Primarily, though, their aim will be to restore some pride, after becoming the first Italian side to ship six goals in a continental semi-final.