Manchester United face AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday evening. Last week at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side came from 2-1 down to win 6-2 after a sublime second half which saw Bruno Fernandes complete his brace, Edinson Cavani score a brace, Paul Pogba with a great header and Mason Greenwood continue his rise to stardom. Roma were pushed aside and will need something short of a miracle to overturn this four-goal deficit and that is even before you think about whether United score or not. Paulo Fonseca’s side’s season looks to be over.
United will have had another week’s break by the time they play again after their Premier League clash with Liverpool was postponed on Sunday after the protest against the Glazer’s at both Old Trafford, which involved supporters getting into the stadium, and at the Lowry Hotel, where the players were ahead of the match. The match was initially delayed but then postponed on safety grounds with a new date for the match not yet confirmed. United will have five Premier League matches to fit into the next 20 days as the match will need to be played before the last matches in the league are played on the 23 May 2021.
How United have faired against AS Roma in European competition.
United and Roma have met seven times in the history of the UEFA Champions League, playing six times and the UEFA Europa League, playing once. United have won five times, drawing once and losing once. The Red Devils have scored a total of 19 goals, conceding six and keeping three clean sheets. The first time the two clubs met was at the quarter-final stage of the Champion League during the 2006/07 season, losing 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico but winning 7-1 (8-3 ons aggregate) at Old Trafford a week later. They then met in the group stages of the competition during the 2007/08 season, winning 1-0 at the Theatre of Dreams and drawing 1-1 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Before last week, United last met Roma was in the quarter-final during the 2007/08 season, making it four meetings between the two clubs that season. United won 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico, winning 1-0 (3-0 on aggregate) at Old Trafford, making the semi-finals that season where they beat Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate over two legs and went on the beat Chelsea on penalties in the final in Moscow. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer featured against Roma in the first two matches played. Wayne Rooney scored four goals, Cristiano Ronaldo scored three, Michael Carrick scored twice, with Patrice Evra Gerard Piqué, Alan Smith and Carlos Tevez scoring once.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face AS Roma in the UEFA Europa League at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is expected to keep his place in the team in the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico against AS Roma on Thursday evening. He will nneed to be at his best though as he conceded twice in the opening 34 minutes last week. Thwarting Edin Dzeko will be the big task though and the striker still has his ability to score goals, which is a big danger for the Italian side. De Gea could well leave United this summer after the birth of his daughter in the past few months and the fact that the club are ready to move on with Dean Henderson as the number one goalkeeper.
It would be good to see the Spanish goalkeeper leave the club after winning a trophy, which will be another big achievement for him despite the years of nothing before the club won the Emirates FA Cup under Louis Van Gaal and the EFL Cup and the Europa League under Jose Mourinho, who will become the Roma manager this summer after being sacked by Tottenham Hotspur in the past month. De Gea has won seven honours at United with three of them being the FA Community Shield, which is not a major trophy in my opinion. He has one Premier League title, one FA Cup, one EFL Cup and one UEFA Europa League to his name.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence need to have a good match against Roma, not capitulate like they did in the opening 34 minutes of the match last week. Solskjaer may want to make changes but there is only one I would make going into this match, then if they get the needed result, preferably two goals scored – nullifying the away goals Roma scored last week, more changes can be made. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should occupy the fullback places as they are the best in their position at this time. Shaw can have a say in the attacking on the left, which he has done all season with Wan-Bissaka concentrating on his defensive duties on the right.
Harry Maguire will start this match, commanding his backline and doing his best to ensure United make the final of the UEFA Europa League this season. I would allow Victor Lindelof to be rested, bringing in Eric Bailly for this match, giving him the chance to show what he can do and help to earn his place in the team back. His injury record, although with him being at the club for a shorter period of time, is comparable to that of Phil Jones, which is a shame. I though Bailly was the best defender at the club a few years back. He could still prove he is one of the best as long as he plays well and keeps his fitness, which is his major problem.
Midfield: Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba
United should ensure they field the midfield that is capable of the task ahead – securing United’s place in the UEFA Europa League final this season. United are in a good position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League based on their league position as they sit in second place six points clear of fourth with a game in hand over the two teams below them. That will only be confirmed when it is mathematically impossible for other teams to knock United out of the top four. Paul Pogba should start as his form over the last month has been positive and he has been capable of doing the business and helping to get the job done.
Nemanja Matic probably deserves a start in this match, of which United have the chance of resting some of the first-choice players, keeping them fresh for the remainder of the season with five Premier League matches left to play, this match and quote possibly the final of this competition. Matic can offer something to the midfield, despite his pace not being as good as it once was. Scott Mctominay should also start as he can help in the defensive duties but also get forward and cause some problems of his own in the final third of the pitch. United already have their foot in the door, now they need to get through it and shut it to ensure they get to Gdansk.
Attacking Midfield: Donny van de Beek
Donny van de Beek should start in the advanced position usually occupied by Bruno Fernandes against Roma. He is a capable player and needs to have some time on the pitch to show what he can do. The Dutchman has one goal and two assists to his name this season but has only played 32 times for the club, opening just 1,181 minutes on the pitch, which averages at just under 37 minutes per appearance. The 24-year-old is clearly part pf the bigger picture at United and is happy at the club, as stated by his compatriot and Manchester United Women player Jackie Groenen. I am sure Solskjaer has something in mind for the player.
He should start against Roma, which will give Fernandes a break ahead of the clash with Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday. Van de Beek has the ability to break into the box, without or without the ball and create something. That has not been well demonstrated at United, but it is something the player has done time and time again for both Ajax and the Netherlands. United’s midfield is packed at this moment in time which has led to the Dutchman being on the bench more often that starting matches. Hopefully he gets to play a meaningful match and gets to show his manager and teammates just what he can do on the pitch.
Forwards: Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani was named the Player of the Month for April for the goals he scored during the month, which puts him in great form at the right time – the business end of the season. He was going to be rested against Liverpool on Sunday, if the match was played, which would have left him fresh for this match, which is still the position he and United are in. United will need him one Sunday, so the goal should be United getting two early goals, which would seal the victory for United, unless Roma were able to score seven goals on the evening, which would seem unlikely. Cavani is the best striker at the club and the hop is that he will remain at United.
Mason Greenwood should play alongside the Uruguayan against Roma as he has been in form at this stage of the season, taking his goalscoring tally to ten goals last week. Greenwood can learn a lot from Cavani and he has been doing that this season. United have one foot in the final of the UEFA Europa League and have seemingly ended their semi-final hoodoo at a good time. Winning a trophy this season will be a must and at this stage, unless Arsenal turn up against Villarreal, it could be the Spanish team in the final. Either would be fine though. Imagine beating Arsenal in Gdansk and ending their dreams of European football next season.
Substitutes: Lee Grant, Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Juan Mata, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo, Daniel James; Marcus Rashford
United can name 12 players on the bench for the Europa League which gives more options, not that United need those after winning the first leg 6-2. Solskjaer will probably have both Lee Grant and Dean Henderson on the bench in this match. It is expected that David De Gea will keep his place in this competition with Henderson seemingly now playing in the Premier League matches. In defence, United could have Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe available, should they need the reinforcement inn the second leg. It is possible that Solskjaer chooses to rest some of the players that I think will play in this match.
In midfield, Juan Mata, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo and Daniel James could all be available with no new injuries reported after last week’s match at the Theatre of Dreams. United should go out to score at least two away goals in this match, nullifying Roma’s away goals scored last week, which, providing United do not concede any goals before scoring, would put them six goals to the good which would seemingly see them into the final. In attack, with United short on this front with Anthony Martial on the sidelines through injury, Marcus Rashford could be the only experienced attacking player on the bench for this match. He was due to start against Liverpool one Sunday before the match was postponed.
Written by John Walker