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Getting over the hump
Manchester United will look to clear the penultimate hurdle in a competition when they host AS Roma in the first-leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday.
It’s the same spot they were in a year ago when they fell 2-1 to Sevilla.
Lately, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done a complete 180 on rotating his goalkeepers.
Dean Henderson has been playing in the league while David de Gea has featurd in these knockout matches.
The Spaniard started both legs of their quarter-final against Granada picking up back-to-back clean sheets.
Marcus Rashford is still nursing an ankle injury but he is likely to see some action if he’s healthy.
Anthony Martial and Phil Jones remain on the long-term absentee list and will be out of Thursday’s first leg.
Captain Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay are all eligible to return after missing the second leg of the quarter-finals through suspension.
Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko should be available for I Giallorossi after sitting out of his sides 3-2 loss to Cagliari last Sunday.
Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and former United defender Chris Smalling are both available after picking up previous injuries.
Gianluca Mancini is suspended for this match, while Riccardo Calafiori and Nicolo Zaniolo are out with injuries.
Road to the Semi’s
Since being relegated into the Europa League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have been virtually unbeatable.
They knocked out Real Sociedad 4-0 on aggregate in the round of 32.
A Paul Pogba strike settled their round of 16 tie with AC Milan 2-1.
In the quarter-finals, a pair of 2-0 victories sent the Reds into their second successive semi-final in the Europa League.
Until the last eight, it has been relatively smooth sailing for Paulo Fonseca’s team.
They won a relatively easy group with 13 points against Young Boys, CFR Cluj and CSKA Sofia.
From there, they disposed of both Braga and Shakhtar Donetsk by a 5-1 aggregate score before coming up against Ajax.
A late goal in the first leg ultimately made the difference as they outlasted the Dutch team 3-2 on aggregate.
Final Four Woes
Getting to this point in a competition is not unusual for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but getting beyond this stage as a manager would be foreign territory.
Last season Solskjaer’s side lost the three semi-finals they were involved in as their trophy drought continued.
It was the same old story earlier this season, when the Reds lost 2-0 to Man City in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
With the season winding down and United trailing Manchester City by 10 points in the Premier League, this could be their last chance to capture a title in this campaign.
They have not won a trophy since capturing the 2016-17 Europa League.
The Reds have not fared well in recent semi-finals, but they have stepped up against Italian opponents, particularly Roma.
It will be the seventh time these teams meet on the European stage, with the Red Devils losing only one of the previous six encounters.
United have only lost one of their last 12 fixtures against squads from Italy in European competition.
Their only defeat in that time came against Juventus in the 2018-19 Champions League group stage.
Roma have lost all three of their previous visits to Old Trafford, scoring only once and conceding nine times.
The Italian team hadn’t won against a side from England since February 2001 when they defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the UEFA Cup.
They have failed to win their last 12 matches against seven different English opponents.
Loaning out players is always a risky thing to do, but for Roma getting Borja Mayoral has paid off handsomely.
The Spanish striker on loan from Real Madrid has come alive in the elimination stage of this tournament.
He has four goals in the knockout round and seven in this European campaign.
He has added another eight in Serie A.
As the competition has gotten more and more difficult, Roma’s defence have struggled.
After earning three shutouts in the group stage, Paulo Fonseca’s side have conceded in four of their six matches in the knockout stage.
United, on the other, have shown they can been defensively responsible, particularly in the Europa League with five clean sheets in their six games.
It seems there is virtually nothing attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes cannot do with the Reds, especially in this competition.
The team’s top goalscorer can score, assist, and he is involved in virtually every scoring opportunity his side produces.
Fernandes has 17 goals, and 11 assists in his last 30 Europa League matches for both the Reds and his old club, Sporting CP.
Contrary to popular belief, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says this competition means a lot to this club.
“We have had a great night in the tournament before at this club, and we know how much it means for the team, for the whole club, and of course our focus now is to get to the final and make sure that the end of the season can finish with a celebration. As soon as we went out of the Champions League, our eyes and focus was on ‘let’s get to the final [in the Europa League.”
Thursday’s match kicks off at 8 pm from Old Trafford. (JSL).