Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani scored twice each as Manchester United took a giant step towards the Europa League final with a 6-2 drubbing of AS Roma on Thursday.
The emphatic victory was in their semi-final first leg game at Old Trafford.
Manchester United’s run of four semi-final losses under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be ended after next week’s second leg in the Italian capital then.
This was after Fernandes and Cavani gave a display of class, providing two assists each to go with their goals.
Roma paid the price for three first half injuries, including to goalkeeper Pau Lopez, which forced them to use all three sub windows before going in 2-1 up at the break.
But that should not disguise the impact of the quality provided by Portuguese midfielder Fernandes and Uruguayan forward Cavani which the visitors simply had no answer to.
Manchester United took a ninth-minute lead with a well-crafted goal.
Paul Pogba’s clever turn and pass to Cavani resulted in an inviting pass to Fernandes who expertly chipped past the advancing Lopez.
Six minutes later, though, Roma were awarded a penalty kick when Pogba slid recklessly into a tackle on Rick Karsdorp, with the full-back’s shot striking the outstretched arm of the Frenchman.
Lorenzo Pellegrini drilled home the equaliser from the penalty kick spot.
It got worse for Manchester United in the 34th minute when their former midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan fed Pellegrini in the inside left channel.
The Italian’s low cross was turned in by ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko.
Roma coach Paulo Fonseca’s inability to freshen up his side from the bench in the second half proved decisive, however, as they wilted in the face of a determined Manchester United.
Cavani fired the home side back on level terms three minutes after the interval with a fine first-time strike after being slipped in by Fernandes following a swift break.
The Uruguayan completed the turnaround with a simple tap-in after Roma substitute goalkeeper Antonio Mirante failed to hold on to a low shot from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Fernandes made it 4-2 from the spot after former Manchester United defender Chris Smalling had clattered into Cavani, and Pogba headed in the fifth from, inevitably, a Fernandes cross.
There was still time for substitute Mason Greenwood to join in the fun with a confident finish after he was played in by the irrepressible Cavani.
It was not quite a repeat of Manchester United’s 7-1 win over Roma in the UEFA Champions League last eight in 2007, but it was still something.
It should give Solskjaer a chance to secure his first silverware as manager.
“I don’t feel the job is done. We did a good job and did well, but we know they have quality,” said the Norwegian.
“We took most of our chances today. So, we’re very pleased with that. The character showed —— we came back, we didn’t lose our heads. For five, 10 minutes at the end of the first half we didn’t look great, but we got it together.”
His counterpart Fonseca was left puzzled how a team that was leading at the break could have fallen apart so badly.
“It’s difficult to explain how the same team that did so well in the first half had that kind of second half.
“It’s hard to play against a side like Manchester United without having the substitutions,” he said.
“It’s positive to reach this stage of the competition anyway, and also to play like we did in the first half. But in the second half we got everything wrong.”
Manchester United will face the winners of the other semi-final between Villarreal and Arsenal.
The Spanish side won Thursday’s first leg in Spain 2-1.
Villarreal claimed a narrow advantage in their 2020/2021 Europa League semi-final match-up with Arsenal after a 2-1 home victory in the first leg on Thursday.
However, they may by now be rueing letting the London club off the hook.
It looked like being a joyous night for Villarreal manager Unai Emery against the club which sacked him in 2019 as his side reached half-time with a 2-0 lead.
It was all thanks to goals by Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.
And when Arsenal had Dani Ceballos sent off just before the hour mark it looked bleak for the visitors.
Arsenal were rocking and needed goalkeeper Bernd Leno to avoid them slipping further behind but they were thrown a lifeline when Nicolas Pepe converted a 73rd minute penalty kick.
A chaotic game took another twist as Villarreal were also reduced to 10 men when former Tottenham Hotspur player Etienne Capoue received a second yellow card.
Villarreal, coached by a Europe League specialist in Unai Emery, maintained their 100 percent home record in the competition this season.
But it was a bittersweet night for the La Liga side with the tie delicately balanced ahead of next week’s return.
Emery won three successive Europa League titles with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016 and his Villarreal side have remained unbeaten in the competition this season.
They enjoyed a dream start as defender Juan Foyth surged forward in the fifth minute and played in Samuel Chukwueze on the right.
His ball in fell for Trigueros who lashed an unstoppable low drive into the bottom corner.
Veteran Albiol made it 2-0 on the half hour mark when a corner-kick was flicked on and he arrived unmarked at the far post to volley high past Leno from close range.
Arsenal thought they had a route back into the game shortly afterwards when Foyth tripped Pepe in the area.
A penalty kick was initially awarded but a VAR check showed that Pepe had handled the ball earlier in the build-up.
Mikel Arteta’s side pressed early in the second half but their momentum was halted when Ceballos caught Daniel Parejo on the foot and was shown a second yellow card.
Emery’s side went for the jugular and Arsenal were indebted to Leno for a great save which prevented Gerard Moreno making it 3-0.
The complexion of the tie changed, however, when Bukayo Saka drew a foul in the penalty box and Pepe drilled his kick straight down the middle to halve the deficit.
Capoue’s evening came to an undignified end as he injured himself with a wild tackle on Saka and was shown a second yellow card while being taken off on a stretcher.
There was still time for substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to miss a chance to make it 2-2 but after what looked like a dreadful position, Arsenal’s season remains alive.
“We didn’t want to come here and lose but after the way the game developed, you have to take the result,” Arteta said. “If you have to lose it is probably the best result we could have.
“I am confident we have a chance to win.”