Football Features

“A being of pure energy” – Winners & Losers as Fernandes and Cavani lift Man Utd to sensational 6-2 Europa League semi-final win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:34, 29 April 2021 | Updated: 19:23, 10 September 2021

In a game of two halves, Manchester United came roaring from behind to rip Roma to pieces 6-2 in the Europa League.

The win gives the Red Devils a massive advantage headed into the second-leg next week. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Bruno Fernandes

In January 2020, Manchester United were a joke. An upper mid-table team who could occasionally play well in a big game thanks to Marcus Rashford. Then they signed Bruno Fernandes and almost overnight, everything changed.

The Portuguese has almost single-handed turned Manchester United into a relevant team again. The unifying power of his presence, leadership and genius has seen the Red Devils return to prominence, and tonight Roma felt his wrath.

The deftness of his opening goal, the crispness of his first assist to Cavani, the coldness of his penalty or the outrageousness of his second assist to Pogba… it was all done with the maximum amount of sauce and serenity. A player who knows how good he is, and how good he can make his team-mates look. Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes, the best signing Manchester United have made in 15 years. A being of pure energy, supercharging the side and lifting them up out of purgatory, into the light.

Loser: Victor Lindelof

While Paul Pogba was purely unfortunate to concede a penalty when sliding to the ground as the ball struck his flailing arms, there’s no defending Victor Lindelof’s showing for Roma’s second goal. The Swede is routinely a weak link in the United back line and was so again.

Lindelof did his usual routine of vacating his central zone to go and jostle with a forward but in his typical soft style didn’t win the ball or concede a foul (like he did for the Sevilla goal that ended United’s Europa League campaign last season) and so when Roma simply shifted the ball around there was a gaping hole where he should have been. Pellegrini went into it that hole, Mkhitaryan found him, and then the ball went to Dzeko for the goal.

He is a liability and must be replaced. By Axel Tuanzebe now, and then perhaps a new signing in the summer.

Winner: Edinson Cavani

When Edinson Cavani signed for Manchester United on deadline day the move reeked of the kind of desperate lunge for a familiar name that had exemplified much of United’s transfer business (or attempted business, anyway) under Ed Woodward.

It has been anything but that.

Cavani has been a talismanic presence for Manchester United. A true leader from the front, an example to his team-mates, and a genuine world-class striker. Of course his age has meant he’s not produced consistently, but when he’s in rhythm he’s as good as ever.

Tonight he was in rhythm.

It started just 10 minutes into the game when his delcious first-time flick sent Bruno Fernandes racing through on goal where he gave United the lead. It continued through a ridiculous first-half where United looked hopeless but Cavani continually industrious.

As the game wore on, Cavani even managed to miss his compulsory sitter. But he never stopped moving, never stopped running, ans

Then in the second-half when someone had to step up and do the simple but crucial job of sticking the ball into the back of the net: Cavani was the man of the movement. A stunning top corner finish drew United level and a sharply-taken rebound from an Aaron Wan-Bissaka gave them the lead for the first time on the night. He then won a penalty that allowed United to get out of sight.

And then to cap the night off, his incredible pass allowed Mason Greenwood to score the sixth goal and put the seal on the win.

Two goals, two assists, one penalty won. Edinson Cavani is a GROWN. MAN.

Loser: Roma’s medical staff

You never want to see a player get injured in any circumstances, least of all in the early minutes of a semi-final. So when Jordan Veretout left the field your heart broke a little for the Frenchman.

Then later on Pau Lopez had to leave after hurting his shoulder making a save, and again you felt so sad for a goalkeeper who was playing well. And it got even worse as before half time their most dynamic player, Leonardo Spinazzola, also left the field hurt.

Three injuries in the first-half. Three! Roma were out of substitution slots so even though they had two changes left, if they didn’t make them at half-time (when they were 1-2 up, remember) they couldn’t make them at all.

Paulo Fonseca will have every right to be furious with his medical staff.

Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

When teams are 1-2 down at home in a Europa League semi-final first-leg, many managers would make a change. Even if they had no idea what to do they would almost make a change for changes sake, just to try and spark something.

Solskjaer held firm and sent his men back out. We don’t know what he said but United came out with renewed vigor and focus, they played with greater intensity and didn’t ever let up on their beleaguered visitors.

Paul Pogba was particularly superb in the turnaround, and it seemed that Solskjaer did pull him deeper than he was in the first-half and this allowed him to provide the kind of progressive passes from the middle that Fred and Scott McTominay couldn’t manage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical ability is oft-lamented but he adjusted so well in the second-half to facilitate his team roaring to victory. He didn’t even have to make a sub to change things, to pull Pogba deeper, he did it via natural game rhythm and positioning.

He even found the time post-match to have a dig at the BT Sport pundits for suggesting he should make a change. “Perhaps those two [Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves] should try leaving players out and picking a team with balance,” said the Norwegian, defending his consistent selection of Scott McTominay and Fred.

Whatever the reason behind his decision-making, it’s clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trusts his players. And with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani on form like this, why wouldn’t he?

Loser: Edin Dzeko

Edin Dzeko scored Roma’s second tonight, a neat tap-in to cap a beautiful move and give Roma a shock lead in the first-half. It was a goal that meant he had scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford in three different decades for three different teams in three different competitions.

2009 for Wolfsburg in the Champions League, 2012 and 2014 for Manchester City in the Premier League and now 2021 for Roma in the Europa League. An astounding run that spans the Bosnian striker’s entire career from young stud to old head. And yet no one is talking about him or his incredible achievement because Roma got slapped 6-2. That’s why he’s a loser. And it sucks.