Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani each scored twice as Manchester United took a giant step towards the Europa League final with a 6-2 defeat to AS Roma in their semi-final first leg at Old Trafford on Thursday.
United’s run of four semi-final losses under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should end after next week’s second stage in the Italian capital after Fernandes and Cavani showed class and gave two assists each to go with their goals.
Roma paid the price for three injuries in the first half, including goalkeeper Pau Lopez, forcing them to use all three sub-windows before going 2-1 at the break.
But that should not obscure the effect of the quality provided by Portuguese midfielder Fernandes and Uruguayan forward Cavani, to whom the visitors simply had no answer.
United took a nine-minute lead with a well-designed goal. Paul Pogba’s clever turn and pass to Cavani resulted in an inviting pass to Fernandes who expertly slammed past the forward Lopez.
Six minutes later, however, Roma were awarded a penalty when Pogba slipped ruthlessly into the tackle Rick Karsdorp, with the shot in the back that hit the Frenchman’s outstretched arm and Lorenzo Pellegrini drilled out the equalizer from the spot.
It got worse for United in the 34th minute when their former midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan fed Pellegrini in the inner left channel and the Italian’s low post was submitted by ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko.
However, Roma coach Paulo Fonseca’s inability to freshen up his side from the bench in the second half proved crucial as they withered ahead of a determined United.
Cavani fired the home team on equal terms three minutes after the interval with a fine first-half stroke after being slipped in by Fernandes after a quick break.
Uruguayan ended the turnaround with a simple impression after Roma substitute Antonio Mirante failed to hold on to a low shot from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Fernandes made it 4-2 from the spot after former United defender Chris Smalling climbed Cavani and Pogba nodded in the fifth from, inevitably, a Fernandes cross.
There was still time for substitute Mason Greenwood to join in the fun with a confident finish after being recorded by the unstoppable Cavani.
It was not really a repeat of United’s 7-1 victory over Roma in the Champions League for the last eight years of 2007, but it should give Solskjaer a chance to secure his first cutlery as manager.
“I do not feel that the job is done. We did a good job and did it well, but we know they have quality,” said the Norwegian.
“We took most of our chances today, so we are very happy with that. The character showed – we came back, we did not lose our heads. For five, ten minutes at the end of the first half we did not look good, but we got it together. “
His counterpart Fonseca was left puzzled by how a team leading at the break could have broken so badly.
“It’s hard to explain how the same team that did so well in the first half had that kind of second half. It’s hard to play against a side like United without having substitutions,” he said.
“It is positive to reach this stage of the competition anyway, and also to play as we did during the first half. But during the second half we got everything wrong.”
United face the winners of the second semi-final between Villarreal and Arsenal. The Spanish team won Thursday’s first stage in Spain 2-1.