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One Foot in the door
Manchester United gave themselves a massive headstart in their Europa League semi-final tie, beating Roma 6-2 at Old Trafford in Thursday’s opening leg.
A pair of goals from both Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes helped United on their way, with the other markers coming courtesy of Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood.
It was a furious second half as United scored five times to reverse a 2-1 deficit as they are now in command lead heading into next week’s deciding leg.
Early on, Roma suffered a big blow when midfielder Jordan Veretout was labouring and couldn’t continue after only five minutes, ceding his place to Gonzalo Villar.
United took advantage going ahead four minutes later.
Paul Pogba did well to drift inside from the left-wing, with an excellent ball into the path of Edinson Cavani.
The Uruguayan laid it off to the onrushing Bruno Fernandes, who chipped it over goalkeeper Pau Lopez for his 25th goal this season.
The lead, however, was short-lived as the Romans quickly got back into the match four minutes later.
Rick Karsdorp galloped down the right, sliding in to reach the ball inside the United penalty area.
Pogba came in to challenge but in doing so seemd to blockthe cross with his arm inadvertently.
However, the referee didn’t see it that way and pointed to the spot.
Lorenzo Pellegrini stepped up and hammered his shot into the left-hand side past David de Gea to put Paulo Fonseca’s side level.
In the 33rd minute, a man who knows a thing or two about playing the Reds gave Roma the lead.
Leonardo Spinazzola made a brilliant run down the left before playing a clever reverse pass to Pellegrini in the box.
The Italian midfielder squared it to Edin Dzeko, and the former Manchester City man tapped it in from close range.
United nearly levelled the match in injury time in the first half.
Cavani did well to latch onto a square ball across, but some alert goalkeeping from substitute keeper Antonio Mirante blocked El Matador’s effort.
Despite having the lead, it was a pulverising half for I Giallorossi, who had to make three substitutions in an injury-plagued start.
Whatever half time adjustments the Red Devils made worked almost immediately, as they drew level three minutes from the restart.
A reversal from their opening goal as this time Bruno Fernandes was the provider, feeding Cavani inside the box with the former Serie A top goalscorer finding the back of the net with the inside of his foot.
In the 64th minute, Cavani was at it again.
Mirante made a mess out of the mighty effort from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, fumbling the shot straight to the United striker who made no mistake.
The go-ahead goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Italians, but United were far from finished.
In the 69th minute, the Reds earned a penalty after former United defender Chris Smalling caught Cavani from behind, and the referee pointed to the spot.
Bruno Fernandes notched his second of the game, firing his shot into the top left corner to make it 4-2.
Three minutes later, the Reds scored again.
A short corner fell to Fernandes, who delivered a lovely cross into the danger area.
Paul Pogba got on the end of it, rising higher than anyone and finding the corner beyond the reach of Mirante.
Substitute Mason Greenwood put the icing on the cake in the 86th minute.
A brilliant pass through from Cavani with the outside of his foot found the Englishman who got in behind the Roma defence, blasting his effort beyond Mirante.
Man of the Match
He came to this team on the deadline day of the fall transfer window, and his experience and poise have been invaluable.
Edinson Cavani was clinical for the Reds, scoring twice and assisting on two as well.
He also set up the Fernandes penalty after being fouled inside the box.
Roma put up a spirited battle in the first half, but El Matador had an answer every time.
The Uruguayan had 38 touches on the night, and was a force against a wounded backline.
Four in a row
Roma have now lost their last four encounters against United at Old Trafford.
In that span, they have been outscored 15-3.
Penalizing the opposition
Bruno Fernandes has been a handful for United’s opponents, whether in Europe or England.
The former Sporting midfielder has been making the opposition pay from the penalty spot in this campaign.
Fernandes now has 12 goals from the spot in all competitions this season.
No player has scored on more penalties this season in all competitions than the Portuguese talisman.
He’s now got 19 goals, and 13 assists in 31 career matches played in the Europa League.
In a league of his own
One United player who seems to have saved his best for last is Mason Greenwood.
The Reds teenager notched his third goal in his last three games in all competitions and made a little more history in the process.
He’s now got seven goals all-time in European competition with the Reds.
That moves him past teammate Marcus Rashford and the late George Best for most ever by a United teenager.
With the win, Man United are nearly through to their first Europa League final since 2016-17.
The Italians need a massive return leg from the Stadio Olimpico next Thursday to reverse the current scoreline.
Roma need a four-goal victory to make it into the final.
Despite a four-goal cushion heading into next week, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cautioned they cannot afford to look too far ahead.
“You don’t feel the job is done, but it was a good job done. We did well, but we know they’ve got quality. I’m very pleased with the response, the second half was very good.
It’s likely another must-win on Sunday for the Reds in the Premier League when they host Liverpool.
They are 10 points back of City in the table with only five games remaining.
They will know that a City win and a loss by them would clinch the league for the Sky Blues.
Sunday’s kick-off from Old Trafford gets underway at 4:30 pm.
The second leg of this semi-final goes next Thursday at 8 pm from Stadio Olimpico in Rome. (JSL).