This will probably be one of Edinson Cavani’s last appearances for Manchester United before he returns to South America but the 34-year-old was involved in five of the goals that means he may still depart with another trophy in his glittering career.
United will, at the very least, surely reach the Europa League final after this ultimately emphatic victory. Winning it would be a first piece of silverware for them in four years, and a first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but at half-time it appeared Roma were more likely to make it through. Then it seemed the story would be about former Manchester players – ex-City striker Edin Dzeko and former United duo Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling – and maybe Solskjaer’s side choking in a fifth semi-final.
But Cavani, who had already provided an assist, took over as he scored twice and earned a (dubious) penalty before delivery another fine assist in what was nevertheless a powerful second-half comeback. The margin of the win and Roma’s injury-hit collapse means the tie is over.
It was with a goal of wonderful-construction that United took the lead before the first-half turned badly away from them. Paul Pogba instigated it, moving away sharply from Smalling, easily drifting past Amadou Diawara and playing the ball into Edinson Cavani whose first time pass was perfectly weighted with Bruno Fernandes running onto it. As goalkeeper Pau Lopez rushed out, Fernandes lifted the ball beyond him and into the net. Pogba, Cavani, Fernandes all big players with a big part in a big goal.
But then United shrunk and were caught out and even if the penalty was harsh it did not explain how they lost their way to then fall behind. Roma countered with Dzeko’s air shot on the area’s edge allowing the ball to be played to the over-lapping Rick Karsdrop with Pogba diving in to block the wing-back’s cross. Pogba’s arms were in the air and the ball struck his right hand with Roma demanding a penalty. But how was Pogba going to slide in with his arms by his side? That would have been even more unnatural. United protested but the penalty was given and Lorenzo Pellegrini drove the ball over David De Gea’s dive. As frustrating as the goal was it had emanated from United losing possession from their throw-in.
United countered and quickly won the ball back with Pogba crashing in a powerful shot from 25 yards that Lopez pushed away one-handed only for the goalkeeper to cry out in pain as he landed heavily on his shoulder.
Lopez wanted to carry on but could not and it meant that within the opening half hour Roma were forced into two substitutions having lost midfielder Jordan Veretout to a hamstring injury in the first five minutes. There would soon be a third casualty but not before Leonardo Spinazzola contributed to the goal.
It was turning into an eventful as well as entertaining contest with referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande then falling onto Dzeko after the striker was fouled by Harry Maguire. But Dzeko soon recovered to give Roma the lead.
It was a goal to equal United’s in its build-up with Spinazzola breaking forward before Mkhitaryan provided a piece of sublime quality as he deftly nut-megged Scott McTominay to pick out the unmarked Pellegrini who crossed low with Dzeko stealing between Maguire and Luke Shaw to bundle the ball home. As fine a goal as it was it was desperately poor defending from United
Remarkably Roma then lost a third player to injury with Spinazzola going off but it was United who had suffered the greater damage.
Even so on half-time they had the opportunity to partly remedy that with Cavani intercepting a terrible cross-field pass by Roger Ibanez and running clear only for substitute goalkeeper Antonio Mirante to block his shot and Smalling to charge down the rebound.
Cavani soon made no mistake. Three minutes into the second-half he collected Pogba’s pass, turned and combined with Fernandes who slipper the ball back to him with Cavani arcing a first-time shot around Mirante and high into the top corner. What a finish and it came seconds after Solskjaer had turned to his bench and shouted “Mason [Greenwood] get ready!” Soon after and another chance fell to Cavani, from Shaw’s cut-back, but he skied the ball high over the cross-bar.
United continued to push with Ibanez only just diverting McTominay’s low cross away before it reached Cavani. The defender also intervened as Rashford waited to head home before there was a let-off for United with McTominay slicing a clearance just past his own post. Then from Dzeko’s pass, Smalling blazed over.
Soon after United were gifted the lead. They worked the ball across the Roma area with Aaron Wan-Bissaka shooting low. Mirante saved but instead of holding the ball only presented it straight to Cavani who drove it past the hapless goalkeeper.
If the penalty award against United was harsh then the one given in their favour was even more so with Smalling penalised for challenging Cavani as he attempted to reach Marcus Rashford’s cross. After a VAR check it stood and Fernandes claimed his second goal from the penalty spot. By now United were rampant. A corner was played short, Fernandes swung in a cross and Pogba rose unmarked to head home from seven yards. Greenwood finally came on and made his mark as he ran onto Cavani’s clever pass to drive the ball in off Mirante’s boot. United are surely in the final.