Manchester United return to UEFA Europa League action on Thursday evening when they welcome AS Roma to Old Trafford. This will be the fourth time the Italian club has been to the Theatre of Dreams and they have only lost there; one match 7-1 in the Champions League during the 2006/07 season. This Roma side won’t be as easy to overcome though and United will need to be at their best following the 0-0 draw against Leeds. That said, the Italian side are not inn the best for form, not winning any of their last four matches. But inn this competition, their Serie A form will go out of the window as they want to win.
United could find themselves up against both Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who both play for the Giallorossi. They will also face up against former Manchester City striker Edin Džeko and former Chelsea winger Pedro, who was one the radar of United under the management of Louis van Gaal. United will be looking to do things right in the semi-final this time, it being the sixth semi-final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the second in the competition over the past two seasons. Solskjaer and United will want to win this trophy this season, getting his first across the line in his managerial career at the Old Trafford club.
How United have faired against AS Roma in European competition.
United and Roma have met six times in the history of European competition, meeting each other in the UEFA Champions League and never in the UEFA Europa League. United have won four times, drawing once and losing once. The Red Devils have scored a total of 13 goals, conceding four 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.
The last time United 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 all scoring once.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face AS Roma in the UEFA Europa League at Old Trafford on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea played both matches against Granada in the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Europa League and with Dean Henderson seemingly the number one goalkeeper at the club at this stage of the season, it would seem that De Gea will face AS Roma this week with United prioritising the competition as it is the only one they can gain a trophy from this season. De Gea has been a great servant to the club but his future seems to be up in the air at this time, following the birth of his daughter over the past few months. Whilst there has been no confirmation of him wanting to leave the club this summer, the rumours will still be rife.
The Spanish goalkeeper could be a good fit inn this competition with United seeking to overcome their semi-final hoodoo with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side losing five of the semi-finals they have appeared in since he took over from Jose Mourinho. United will be eager to break that poor form in the latter stages of cup competitions, also seeking to get to their first European final since they won the competition under Mourinho during the 2016/17 season, beating Ajax in the final. I believe United could go all the way here but they do not need to get carried away, always ensuring that give their all on the pitch and De Gea can do just that.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United will have been boosted by their clean sheet against Leeds United on Sunday but will also be buoyed by their lack of goals against the club. Solskjaer may need to change up his defence, keeping some players fit for the clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford inn Sunday, which will be a big game and one that United should be winning with Liverpool’s poor form this season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw will keep their places in the fullback positions and I believe they could both play on Sunday too. With Brandon Williams and Alex Telles on the bench, they could be replaced should United get a few goals in the match.
In the central defensive positions, I expect Eric Bailly to make his first start since the international break, where he tested positive for coronavirus and had to stay in the Ivory Coast until he had a negative test, then travel back to Manchester where he could be assessed and also put forward negative tests to get back into the swing of things. He recently signed an extension to his contract at the club, which will cut some rumours out ahead of the summer. Partnering him will be Harry Maguire, the captain who has missed few matches the season – something that Bailly could learn from after his poor injury record at the club duo far.
Midfield: Donny van de Beek, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba
United midfield was somewhat rested ons Sunday and for this match Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek need to be starting. I believe the pair can add something in terms of experience and ability with the Dutchman not playing a lot of football so far this season. Pogba can inspire United to put themselves in with a chance of getting to the UEFA Europa League final on Thursday evening, ahead of the second leg of the competition that will be played inn Rome next week. Van de Beek is a player that can frustrate Roma and also assist the attack to find space, create goals and even score them himself, although he has one goal to his name this season.
Scott Mctominay could be the third midfielder playing in a midfield three in this match and he will be expected to do all the defensive tasks in the match, which is something he has done at times for the club. When United are on the ball and going forward, he can also get himself in good positions, as has been shown with his seven goals in all competitions so far this season. Bruno Fernandes will be playing in the advanced role in midfield and he will be needed at his best. I believe this trio, playing behind the attackers can assist the defence and play the ball forward for the attacking players, although this will be a tough match.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes is the player that has performed the most for United, but in the past few matches, he seems to have been struggling at times. He was effectively nullified by Kelvin Phillips against Leeds United, which would have been frustrating for him. He will need to find ways of overcoming that moving forward as United rely one him to either score goal of create them, whether with the assist or the ball that creates the assist. Fernandes has scored 24 goals in all competitions so far this season, adding 14 assists to that tally and he is the player that has scored the most goals for the club since he arrived in January 2020.
Against Roma, he will need to be dangerous going forward and his teammates will need to assist him when getting forward, especially if Roma end up marking him, which will mean that United stagnate as there are not many players on the pitch that can add good play like the Portuguese magnifico does. Perhaps Donny van de Beek could add something, which might mean that Roma could find it tough against this United side – as long as both he and Fernandes start, which will probably not be the case. Solskjaer will need to commit himself when making changes, as he does this too late at times, which seems to cost United more each time.
Forwards: Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani did not start against Leeds United on Sunday and I felt that this was a big mistake. But Solskjaer could have been prioritising him for this match, which has a higher level of importance. The Uruguayan may not be staying at the club for a second season, unless that changes before the end of the season and despite him scoring his tenth goal some weeks ago, he could still do a lot more between now an the end of the season. I believe he is the best striker at the club at this time and with the injury to Anthony Martial, which has supposedly ended his season, United will need him more between now and the latter stages on May.
Mason Greenwood should partner Cavani in attack, playing in a forward two, which could have the impetus to do some damage to this Roma side, who have been poor domestically, but better in this competition. They stand in the way of United making the final this season and for that reason, United will need to sweep them out of the way. Greenwood has not scored as many goals as he did last season, but he has been playing in his more favoured position for much of the time, learning along the way. In a few years time, he will be some player. Until then, we have to hope that he has learned a lot and can help inspire United to a first final as a group together.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Juan Mata, Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic; Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga
Solskjaer can name 12 or more players on the bench for this match, depending on how many players he selected for the match day squad. He can bring five of those players onto the pitch, which might be needed with a view to Sunday’s clash with Liverpool. He might need to make changes across the pitch to save players from fatigue as they will have just two full days rest between matches. It seems likely that Dean Henderson will be one the bench, should he be needed, which seems unlikely. It could well be that some youth players are added to the bench too, with United short on attacking players at this time.
In defence, Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could all be available. They may be needed as Solskjaer seeks to keep his fullbacks fit to face Liverpool, maybe even freshen up the centre of defence during the match, if United get a few goals ahead of the Italian side. In the midfield and wide attacking areas, Solskjaer could choose from Juan Mata, Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James and Nemanja Matic which is a whole host of experience and pace to bring onto the pitch. In attack, Marcus Rashford could be available with Anthony Elanga also included in the squad, to give United more choice in attacking positions.
Written by John Walker