Edinson Cavani's ruthless streak fails to mask Manchester United concerns for Europa League final
- Manchester United win 8-5 on aggregate
- Cavani scores twice but defensive errors mar second half
This was a test of character for Manchester United and despite the satisfaction of a place in the final of the Europa League, they did not pass it.
For all the praise that comes with a big victory over two legs in the semi-final, a defeat in the second was a reminder of bad habits that have let them down before.
We should not be too harsh. United are in the final and are certainly good enough to beat Villarreal. But having been challenged to win the second leg as well as the first, they failed.
The hard work had been done in Manchester, of course. The tie was all but over. The Italians thrashed 6-2, an embarrassing scoreline that made a mockery of the fact that semi finals are supposed to be tight and tense.
But manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer set them a different sort of task here. The best teams have a ruthless streak, a killer instinct that means they win regardless of the situation.
Roma were beaten in the first leg, but could United do it all over again? They have lost too many semi-finals under Solskjaer to make the mistake of believing they can switch off and cruise, but did it again.
Having scored in the first half through Edinson Cavani, to make it 7-2 on aggregate they relaxed and offered little resistance as Roma scored three times in the second.
It should have been more, cutting through United’s backline with ease. The fact David De Gea was United’s best player only hints at how many chances Roma spurned. The Serie A side were well beaten, but still scored five times over two games. It could easily have been double that.
“We are disappointed we have lost the game, it was far too open,” said Solskjaer. “We gave the ball away far too many times in dangerous positions and we needed David to save us. Thankfully we have a No9 who is desperate to score goals or it could have been uncomfortable.”
Teams with flaky defences do not tend to win cup finals. United’s defence remains a concern even if their attack, led by the evergreen Cavani means they are a constant threat. To score eight times over two games in a semi final is impressive whatever way you look at things.
But this is not just about the Europa League. United will finish second in the Premier League barring a late season collapse, but that is not a cause for celebration. Just as losing to Villarreal in the final will not be either.
When they have slipped into their comfort zone United underwhelm. It has been a chink, a loose thread pulled too many times.
Solskajer is tired of warning them, but they were lucky not to concede in the first half and stopped playing in the second.
Roma scored twice and should have had more. United were flimsy, flaky, everything Solskjaer did not want to see.
No real harm done, but is it a sign of weakness? United have plenty of talent but do they have the mentality of champions? Teams that win the league never switch off, they win again and again, week after week.
This performance, particularly in the second half ,will have annoyed Solskajer even if he hid it.
There was a reason he did not rest his best players. It would have made sense to give Bruno Fernandes a break. The Portugal international has played 33 games for United and another eight for his country. He did not have to play in this one.
Neither did Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw or Aaron Wan-Bissaka. All have taken on a gruelling work load, all would have benefited from a rest, but while Solskjaer made changes, he kept his key men busy.
He wanted to see how his side would react. He wants a team that crushes the opposition, whatever the threat posed.
Roma needed to score four goals and stop United scoring at all to turn this semi final around. It always looked beyond them, but they had more than enough chances on the night to do it
Bryan Cristante and Gianluca Mancini both forced saves from De Gea, good ones too. Roma were desperate. United were slow to react and even after taking the lead through Cavani, set up by Fred, they could not see the game out.
Wan Bissaka and Shaw were replaced at the break and Roma’s two goals, from Edin Dzeko and Cristante, briefly made things exciting.
Had United conceded again then it would have got really interesting, but De Gea was superb, making save after save. Roma scored a late deserved third through teenage substitute Nicola Zalewski, after Cavani had equalised against the run of play.
I thought we were a bit edgy. We had chances, they had chances ... they actually played a man-to-man pressing style which made the game end-to-end like basketball and there were chances for both teams.We had a good result at half-time but in the second half we gave them too many chances.
We need to improve for the final but it’s a great achievement
Crazy game. Far too loose in the second half but with the fixtures piling up, it was understandable that Solskjaer made changes that significantly weakened his side. Cavani again showed his class. He has to play. He has to stay.
United will play Villarreal in the final on May 26.
Williams is booked for sliding into a tackle with Ibanez. Soft. Ball first, then man and not at any great pace or with a raised foot.
Mata replaces Bruno Fernandes. Four minutes of injury time illuminate the fourth official's board.
Mirante fumbles Rashford's right-foot shot cutting in from the left but grabs it at the second attempt.
Ding-dong game has been a joy to watch but United's defending this half with their reserve full-backs has been dreadful. In terms of in-depth quality, Chelsea and City are world's apart from everyone else including fellow rich kids United and Liverpool.
Though it may be a Telles own goal after the debutant crashed a shot when picked out by a left-wing cross. Telles' reluctance to stay out wide in attack or defence have been notable tonight and he stood too far off the Poland U-21 striker whose shot hit the left-back before beating De Gea
Roma 3 Manchester United 2 (Zalewski)
Offside? VAR check. No, it stands.
Rashford is playing on the left, Van de Beek through the middle. Peter Drury reels off a stat for the ages: Villarreal who will be United's opponents in the final should Arsenal fail to score in the next 12 minutes, have played Man Utd four times and each one has ended 0-0.
Mkhitaryan took advantage of Williams' positioning to run on to a through ball. Williams and Telles have been terrible at stopping the crosses.
Pedro departs the fray having put the ball on Dzeko's head only for the prolific centre-forward to head over. Roma send on Zalewski for the 2010 World Cup winner.
Exit Cavani, enter Rashford. What a brilliantly daft and enjoyable game this has been. Mkhitaryan, out of nowhere, stabs a shot onto the foot of the post.
Karsdorp grabs Greenwood and Cavani races over to push him away. Mancini comes to Karsdorp's aid and there follows 15 seconds of grappling, prodding and general posturing, earning Cavani and Karsdorp a yellow card each.
Roma substitution. Santon, Toon Army veteran, replaces Bruno Peres.
Bruno Fernandes with the assist again, an inswinging right foot cross from the left. Cavani went on the c of the cross, sneaking behind Ibanez to head it firmly into the ground and past the keeper. Perfect timing.
Roma 2 Manchester United 2 (Cavani)
Peter Drury does that thing of his, where he says the player's full name, like a parent/teacher during a rebuke: 'Mason Greenwood!' after he latches on to a wonderful Bruno pass to the back stick. He knocks it over the keeper and the bar.
Matic comes on for Manchester United. Pogba is withdrawn. Both sides are hurling haymakers at each other, Bruno Fernandes, put through the inside-left by Van de Beek's diiligence, has a low shot saved by Mirante.
Alex Telles is being torn apart by Pedro and Karsdorp and in the last three minutes De Gea has made a crucial double save from Pedro at the left post followed a minute later by a lucky one that hit the inside of his knee to stymie Mkhitaryan. Williams is having a mare, too.
Glorious right-foot shot from 16 yards after Pellegrini pinched the ball off Fred, who was trying to dribble his way out of the box and whos carelessness was caught red-handed. Pellegrini stabbed it to Cristante who buried it.
Roma 2 Manchester United 1 (Cristante)
Bruno Peres whips a cross on the run from the left to the back post. Pedro meets it on the half-volley and thumps it back across. Dzeko had made space by standing still as Maguire goes towards the ball and puts his head in the way of Pedro's centre/misplaced shots and turns it past De Gea.
Roma 1 Man Utd 1 (Dzeko)
Bailly flattens Dzeko after the Roma centre-forward surprisingly loses possession.
Bailly closes down Pedro as the ball broke into the box from Mkhitaryan's cut-back. The ball ricochets off both sets of shin pads and flies behind. The referee awards a goalkick and Pedro seems to cast aspersions on his mother's occupation.
Williams heads Pedro's deep cross from the right behind rather than risk Mkhitaryan stealing in behind him. Roma take the corner short, Pellegrini skedaddles back down the left and tries to catch De Gea out at the near post with a fierce daisy-cutter. De Gea is not to be gulled, though, and dives to gather.
Roma want a penalty for hand ball after Maguire makes a flying shut-that-door block, legs kicking up behind him. The ball comes off his ankle and on to his hand. The referee says no and VAR agrees with him.
Bailly tracks back to beat Dzeko to Cristante's ball over the top.
Roma free-kick on the right after a foul by Van de Beek. Pellegrini whips it beyond the D, Maguire heads it out.
Manchester United change both full-backs, sending on Brandon Williams and Alex Telles for Wan-Bissaka and Shaw.
Plenty of chances for Roma, the best three of them thwarted by De Gea. But United have been dangerous throughout, too, and Cavani, the coiled cobra, strikes again. Gdansk here they come (as if there was any doubt).
Greenwood centres for Bruno Fernandes in space in the box. Roma, who need six goals, are leaving a few gaps now. The ball came out to Greenwood who hit it first time into the grass and it kicked up. Bruno was trying to improvise, caught between and overhead, a scissors kick or even a scorpion finish. Caught in three minds, he missed the ball entirely and did a kind of sideways roll, fresh from a French and Saunders gymnastics routine from that ancient sketch.
Bruno Fernades shoots from a free-kick he won himself 28 yards out, left of centre. A leaping defender in the wall takes its full force.
De Gea makes his third world-class save of the half, diving low to his left at the near post to thwart his former team-mate Mkhitaryan. Roma had broken upfield at full pelt after blocking Greenwood's shot.
Fernandes feeds it to Fred on halfway who laces a fine pass from the left of the centre-circle to Cavani bounding through the middle. He timed his dart superbly to race on to the pass beyond and picked up his head to thunder a right-foot shot from 20 yards through Mirante's dive. Too much power.
Roma 0 Manchester United 1 (Cavani)
Roma caught offside at a free-kick by the trap sprung on Maguire's say-so.
De Gea with another smart save low to his right from a blistering Pellegrini shot hit at an angle of about 225 degrees from the left post. The ball had bobbled through the area after Dzeko infiltrated the area from the right and stabbed the ball off a sequence of defenders' shins and toes.
Mkhitaryan is called offside for a diving near-post haeder that he glances across goal and wide, the cross a chipped diagonal from the right. Poor effort but let off the hook by the flag.
Ebrima Darboe, a midfielder who made an eight-minute debut against Samp on Sunday, replaces Smalling, allowing Mancini to drop into the back four.
Chris Smalling pumps the ball out of play and sits on the grass, distraught. Something wrong with his left leg. Possibly his hamstring. He will have to go off.
Great save from Mirante. Bruno Fernandes spun a lovely pass from a left-half position just inside his half out to the inside-right. Cavani was on to it, outmuscled Ibanez and spanked a shot from 15 yards towards the far top corner but Mirante managed to throw himself in the way. It seemed to hit him in the face but a block's a block.
Good interception from Bailly who then instigates a counter-attack that falters when Shaw fouls Pedro. Surprised Roma haven't hit any of those long diagonals from left to right for Karsdorp which caught United out twice at old Trafford in the first half.
Van de Beek has been starved of service since United switched from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1.
Cavani tries to dink it over the keeper as he chased a bouncing ball into the box. Mirante raced 10 yards off his line to narrow the angle and Cavani hooked it over him ... and the bar.
Wan-Bissaka deservedly yellow-carded for a sliding tackle through Bruno Paredes from the side. Mason Greenwood protests that he got the ball, which he might have done, but he sent him into orbit too.
Pogba, who is now playing alongside Fred with Van de Beek switching to the left, catches Pellegrini in the face with his right hand and concedes a foul in the Roam half.
Cavani has two hacks at Ibanez, connecting with the second across the ankles as the centre-back was trying to usher a long ball out for a goal-kick. Should have been a card but Cavani, who has a large plaster on his left cheek now, escapes without a booking.
Pedro pokes his left leg through Pogba's gait to steal the ball 25 yards out then thrashes a right foot shot over the bar.
Good pass from Van de Beek to send Bruno Fernandes hot-stepping down the right. But it suits Bruno Peres, a Brazilian right-back playing at left-back tonight, as he can attack it with his right foot when Bruno tries to twist inside.
Karsdorp roasts a dawdling Shaw down the Roma right. Pellegrini pulls away from Maguire to the edge of the six-yard box for the square pass but he fizzes it too close to De Gea who blocks it at the cost of a corner.
Quick passing move between Bruno Peres, Mkhitaryan and Pellegrini down the inside-left to set up a shot for the captain who blazes a left-footer over the bar from 20 yards.
In comes a viciously inswinging corner from the left, including Mkhitaryan who had stolen around the back and really should have turned it in at the back post.
De Gea pulls off a stunning save from Mancini after the defender/midfielder spun on to a flying left foot volley from eight yards. De Gea dives to his right to push it behind for a corner. Had it gone in, VAR would likely have chalked it off for a basketball dribble that set up Mancini's strike.
Roma are playing with a back four with Cristante, who is a midfielder but played in the back three last week, and Mancini, also a defender, in the middle of midfield.
Mkhitaryan is hurt after Bailly nuts him as they both battled for a header. Free-kick bit no card as it was accidental.
Manchester United kick off after both sides and the officials take a knee for a few seconds. Immediately they attack up the inside left but when the ball is played out to Greenwood down the right, he can't reach the pass before it skips out for a throw-in.
The man who succeeded Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, shakes the hand of the man whose job will be taken by his predecessor in a couple of weeks.
Separately, naturally. Man Utd in their zebra, magic eye kit. Roma in their giallorossi finery.
Man Utd showed no mercy in the #UEL semi-final first leg vs. Roma ⚽
Here's their emphatic 6-2 win in 6️⃣0️⃣ seconds! ⏪ pic.twitter.com/NvlbqaykN1— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 6, 2021
Roma Mirante; Smalling,Mancini, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Cristante, Pellegrini, Bruno Peres; Pedro, Mkhitaryan; Dzeko.Substitutes Fuzato, Santon, Borja Mayoral, Kumbulla, Bove, Ciervo, Darboe, Zalewski, Boer.
Man Utd De Gea; Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Van de Beek, Fred; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba; Cavani.Substitutes Henderson, Grant, Lindelof, Alex Telles, Matic, Williams, Tuanzebe, McTominay, Mata, Rashford, Diallo, Elanga.
Referee Felix Brych (Germany)