Manchester United will face Villarreal in the Europa League final after an 8-5 aggregate victory that was closer than it should have been as Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men endured a nervy second half. Here, Roma swept three past the impressive David De Gea which will not please the manager, though Solskjaer’s thoughts can now turn to the Gdansk showpiece and the dream of adorning an ever-improving two-and a-half-season tenure with his first trophy.
Do this and seal second place in the Premier League and United’s trajectory under the Norwegian will be firmly pointing skyward. Solskjær included Donny van de Beek in an XI that included eight of the same players who beat Roma last week. The Dutchman last started in United’s FA Cup defeat at Leicester City in March so what he did not require was for his first pass – aimed at Mason Greenwood – to go straight out.
Roma’s best chance was to score early and send jitters through United. They went close a few times. First Gianluca Mancini had David De Gea flinging a palm out to save at close range. The midfielder handballed but as he failed to finish VAR was not involved. There was a resulting corner after which De Gea berated his defence for allowing Henrikh Mkhitaryan a free header that hit the side-netting.
Next, Lorenzo Pellegrini shot wide from range and Rick Karsdorp burst past Luke Shaw to cross, and De Gea this time booted the ball away. Roma were a blur of claret, roving in numbers at United with and without the ball, Edin Dzeko leading the press from the front. This hassling of Solskjær’s men meant they fought for composure when allowed scraps of possession, an over-hit Harry Maguire pass to Greenwood symptomatic of the problem.
A United goal, though, would surely kill Roma’s morale. When Van de Beek charged down a clearance, the ball went to Fred. He chipped to Edinson Cavani and gave the striker an opening. His idea – to scoop over Antonio Mirante and in – was good, but the execution not, as the goalkeeper was cleared but the bar too.
This signalled United were moving into gear, though. An Eric Bailly surge swept him from close to his area to close to Roma’s but his 60-yard run ended with a pass straight to Chris Smalling. Next, Bruno Fernandes split Roma with a pass that had Cavani clear again. The Uruguayan’s shot was as fierce as Mirante’s reflexes were impressive and Paulo Fonseca’s side escaped.
As the half-hour passed the tie remained at 6-2: good news for United who could see the interval and 135 of the 180 minutes navigated. Solskjær had positioned Van de Beek wide left of Fernandes, and Pogba alongside Fred in midfield, which was a puzzle as the reverse would have better suited each player.
If this was something to consider at half-time the manager did so with his side 1-0 up via a classy goal. A Fernandes flick found Fred who fed Cavani whose touch allowed a stride before smashing beyond Mirate for his sixth goal in six outings. With Greenwood shooting wide, Fernandes mistiming a reverse volley, and then 10-yard effort following a United move that was a geometric marvel, they ended the half on top.
Solskjær removed Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw for Brandon Williams and Alex Telles for the second half with United in cruise control. The latter’s missed clearance led to a scare for Maguire when he pinged the ball up onto his right arm. Roma wanted a penalty, Felix Brych said no, and VAR did not even ask the referee to peek at the pitchside monitor.
Now, though, United wobbled. A slumbering Telles allowed Pedro to kick a cross into the turf that bounced to Dzeko whose header gave De Gea no chance. This reset the contest to its pre-kickoff status: Roma needed to score four to knock United out. It became three when an extravagant Fred dribble had him dispossessed and from 20 yards out Bryan Cristante beat De Gea. This made it 7-4 to United, who could next thank De Gea for point-blank saves from Dzeko, and then from Pedro twice.
Gratitude was also aimed Cavani’s way when his second eased United’s heart-rate. Fernandes’s latest excellent assist was headed in emphatically and the four-goal cushion was restored. Yet the visitors hardly banged the door shut from this juncture as Roma threatened further, with Nicola Zalewski’s 83rd-minute conversion making the closing moments a little more tense than they should have been. At the final whistle, though, the job had been done, and United’s semi-final hoodoo under Solskjær finally ended.