Manchester United will face Roma in what is the club’s second consecutive Europa League semi-finals appearance.
Last year the Red Devils fell at this stage to eventual tournament winners Sevilla, but without the Europa League overlords around this time to scupper their plans, United will feel confident that they can go one better than 2020 and actually make the final.
Roma stand in their way and although their overall form is indifferent at best (they’re winless in four and have won just thrice in their last 10 games), in the Europa League they have actually been quite impressive. They’ve played 12 games so far this season, having lost only once, and their draw against Ajax in the last round ended a run of five consecutive wins.
It is a finely poised tie, but who will come out on top? We’ve had a look and come up with five predictions for this Europa League semi-final.
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1. Predicted Manchester United XI
Manchester United play Liverpool only a few days after the Roma game. However, with second place largely secure and the team yet to win a semi-final let alone a trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, you can expect United to go all-out here.
The double pivot of ‘McFred’ may be held back, at least in part, given their previous success in nullifying Liverpool, and Solskjaer will probably continue his trend of rotating goalkeepers, but otherwise you can expect United to be full-strength.
That means Maguire, Lindelof and Wan-Bissaka in defence with Shaw an attacking option at left-back. David de Gea keeps goal while Scott McTominay anchors midfield alongside Paul Pogba (who was rested at the weekend).
Ahead of Pogba it will be standard Solskjaer’s United, with Rashford and Greenwood flanking the immortal Bruno Fernandes with Edinson Cavani leading the line, hoping to build on his goal in the last round.
2. Predicted Roma XI
Roma have a fairly settled XI and rested several key first-teamers this weekend (where they paid the price, losing to 3-2 to Cagliari). Pau Lopez will be in goal and has yet to taste defeat in Europe this season, as he was benched for Roma’s only loss. Chris Smalling has recovered from injury just in time to face his old club. The Englishman will take his place at the heart of Roma’s three man back-line and be out to impress, showing how much he has thrived since leaving Old Trafford.
Leonardo Spinazzola, Jordan Veretout and Rick Karsdrop were all rested at the weekend, only coming off the bench. Meanwhile Lorenzo Pellegrini and Amadou Diawara both came off the field in the game. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko didn’t play at all.
Which is to say the likely seven attacking players Roma have out on the field all come into the game having had a degree of rest at the weekend. Don’t expect them to get tired as the game wears on. These guys have had plenty of rest and should be raring to go.
3. The Prince Paul Power Hour
When Manchester United last played an Italian team, Paul Pogba was the difference. He came off the bench for the last half-hour against Milan, scored the winning goal and generally just ran the show. Pogba’s skill-set is enormous and his ability to dominate Italian opponents dates back to his time at Juventus.
The Frenchman was held back at the weekend, playing only a small role off the bench. And he was held back because of this game, because Solskjaer knows that Pogba lives for big-time knockout football, because a midfielder of his size and skill has the capability to take over any game, especially as the opponents will no doubt devote substantial resources to stopping Bruno Fernandes. That will allow Pogba to attack from deeper positions and cause absolute hell for Roma.
4. The Revenge Squad stand tall
Edin Dzeko is a former Manchester City player and has seven goals in nine games against Manchester United.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was one of the hottest midfielders in the world when Manchester United signed him in 2016, only for the Red Devils to bury him under José Mourinho’s horrific tactics and oppressive managerial approach.
Smalling was a Manchester United stalwart for many years and the best pure defender at the club yet when time came to move players on it was Smalling and not the inferior Jones or Rojo that was sent away. Moreover none of the players then or now are better matches to partner Harry Maguire than Smalling is, but they still got rid.
These three men should all line up against Manchester United with revenge on their mind, and they have the talent to deliver it as well. Expect seasonal bests from the trio as they play out of their skins to humiliate the Red Devils. Smalling flying around with tackles and blocks, Mkhitaryan ripping their defence to bits and Dzeko doing what he does and scoring.
5. United take a slender lead to Rome
As much as Roma’s Revenge Squad will make their presence felt against Manchester United, it probably won’t be enough to overcome the Red Devils. The Italians don’t come into the game in the best of form and while they can no doubt raise their game, it’s a question of how high a level they can even reach. They’re currently seventh in Serie A, six points behind Lazio having played a game more.
They’re OK, and under coach Paulo Fonseca they will certainly play United hard, but Solskjaer’s men will have just about too much quality. With the likes of Pogba and Mason Greenwood in form, and Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes’ impossibly consistent big-game performances since the start of 2020, it’s unlikely Roma will be able to cope.
Expect goals for sure. Hell, Edinson Cavani has scored nine times in 12 games against Roma, including a hat-trick the last time he faced them in a home game. This is more than a match for Dzeko’s record against United; but the Red Devils should end the night victorious. It won’t be definitive. United will have to go to Rome and play well, but they should be able to go there holding a slender lead.
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