Oh No, Not Again! Roma Grounded and Pounded by Manchester United

Some things seem destined not to ever change. Few could have expected that tonight’s Manchester United-Roma match-up at Old Trafford could follow the same pattern as Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils’ infamous 7-1 thrashing of the Giallorossi in the 2007 Champions League.

And still, Manchester did only slightly worse than that as they delivered Roma another brutal hammering. The first leg of their Europa League Semi Final ended 6-2, with Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes each bagging a brace, and Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood rounding up the score for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

Disaster struck in the second half for Roma, who conceded five goals after closing the first period ahead. They had managed to equalize Bruno Fernandes’ opener with Lorenzo Pellegrini from the penalty spot. Then, when Edin Dzeko put Roma in the driving seat on 34 minutes, it seemed like the Giallorossi had finally managed to chase away the ghosts of 2007.

But it was an illusion. History repeated itself as, as soon as the home side hit the gas, the Romans were mercilessly trampled and added another dire trophy to their European gallery of horrors. It was another one of those nights that they won’t forget easily in Rome.

Surely luck didn’t help coach Paulo Fonseca and the Giallorossi, who set a likely unprecedented record for the most forced substitutions in the first half of a football game. Before the break, Jordan Veretout, Paulo Lopez, and Leonardo Spinazzola had all picked up injuries. When referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande blew for half time, the Portuguese coach had already used all his possible slots for substitutions.

The first bad piece of news for Roma came five minutes after kick-off. Jordan Veretout raised the white flag for a thigh injury and Fonseca had to quickly replace him with Gonzalo Villar. To make things worse, Manchester United opened the scoring just three minutes later.

United’s opener was the consequence of a brilliant combination between Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani, with the Frenchman dribbling past the Roma defenders like they were slalom poles, and the former PSG striker releasing Bruno Fernandes in the box with a clinical pass. The Portuguese rounded Pau Lopez and slotted the ball home to bring back the memories from 2007.

Despite the shocking start, however, Roma were fast to react this time. On 13 minutes, Pogba pushed back with his hand a Rick Karsdorp incursion. The referee pointed to the penalty spot after checking the VAR. Roma’s penalty taker was supposed to be – guess who? – Veretout, but Lorenzo Pellegrini stepped up to the task and made no mistake.

On 28 minutes, Pau Lopez felt his shoulder ache after diving to save from Pogba. He couldn’t continue either, forcing Paulo Fonseca to make his second change. It was Antonio Mirante to replace the Spanish goalkeeper.

Roma resisted and even managed to snatch a second goal away that could have counted much in view of the two-legged tie. Leonardo Spinazzola run along the left flank and exchanged the ball with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose wonderful diagonal pass released Pellegrini in the box. Edin Dzeko’s tap-in was the obvious consequence and the perfect conclusion to a beautiful team effort from the Giallorossi.

Then, Spinazzola also had to give up. A hopeless Fonseca replaced him with Bruno Peres and that would be his last change of the night. But, despite such an incredible string of injuries, the Romans were still ahead at half time.

The second half was a completely different ball game. The Red Devils condensed in 45 minutes what they had done 14 years ago in that infamous precedent.

Three minutes after the restart, Manchester drew level with Edinson Cavani. The former Palermo and Napoli man received the ball from Bruno Fernandes and fired it past Mirante at the end of a lightning fast counter attack.

The perfect understanding between Cavani and Fernandes would end up being the key to the second half slaughter. It looked like the two had been growing up playing in the same playground.

Manchester United started to make the ball circulate and slowly built up the pressure. After a series of quick passes, the ball ended on Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s feet. His shot was not irresistible but Mirante failed to block it, offering Cavani an overly easy chance to bag his brace with a tap in from point-blank range.

Roma were conceding too much now and, from a Marcus Rashford offense, Chris Smalling knocked Cavani in the box, prompting the referee to allow a new penalty – this time for the home side. Bruno Fernandes’ conversion was perfect and the second brace of the night brought the score at 4-2 for Solskjaer’s band.

The Giallorossi were stunned and Manchester had no intention to stop: Roger Ibanez blocked Cavani right when the Uruguay international was ready to shoot from another brilliant Bruno Fernandes service. But the next goal was delayed by just a few minutes.

The Portuguese was unstoppable and, just one minute later, his driving cross found Pogba’s winning header in the middle of the box for United’s fifth goal. The ghosts of 2007 were now alive, kicking, and swarming across the Old Trafford ground – which became even more evident on 86 minutes as, from yet another fast break, Cavani offered 19-year-old Mason Greenwood a chance to make it to the scoresheet.

Greenwood would not miss, setting the score at 6-2 and virtually booking his side a ticket to the Europa League Final in Gdansk. Roma would need to win by at least four goals in the second leg to spoil the Red Devils’ party, but  it looks more realistic for them to just start planning the next season.



April 29, 2021 – Europa League 2020-2021 Semi Finals

SCORER: 9′ Bruno Fernandes (M), 15′ Pellegrini (R, pen.), 33′ Dzeko (R), 48′ Cavani (M), 64′ Cavani (M), 71′ Bruno Fernandes (M, pen.), 75′ Pogba (M), 86′ Greenwood (M)

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred (83′ Matic); Rashford (76′ Greenwood), Bruno Fernandes (89′ Mata), Pogba; Cavani (Henderson, Grant, Bailly, Diallo, James, Telles, Williams, Van de Beek, Tuanzebe) Coach: Solskjaer
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Pau Lopez (28′ Mirante); Smalling, Cristante, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Diawara, Veretout (5′ Villar), Spinazzola (37′ Bruno Peres); Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan; Dzeko (Fuzato, Kumbulla, Santon, Darboe, Ciervo, Carles Perez, Borja Mayoral) Coach: Fonseca

REFEREE: Del Cerro Grande (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Pogba (M); Villar, Smalling (R); Extra Time: 1st Half 5′, 2nd Half 2′