Many in Italy feared that Roma’s defensive frailties were going to be ruthlessly exposed in Manchester, and that is how the game started. Nine minutes in, Bruno Fernandes opened the scoring after some glorious interplay between the Portuguese, Paul Pogba, and Edinson Cavani – a trio that would go on to cause irreparable damage to the Giallorossi.
By half time though, the picture was very different. United started to give the ball away at will, and Roma found themselves with two seemingly crucial away goals to cherish. A Lorenzo Pellegrini penalty after a Pogba handball saw them draw level, and an Edin Dzeko tap-in put them in a position that seemed unimaginable after the first five minutes.
It seemed that United were hiccuping in a cup semi-final once again, and this time Paolo Fonseca’s Roma would be the unlikely beneficiaries. The second half though illustrated the stark differences between the two squads.
Roma’s three most creative players saw an incredibly small amount of the ball after the break, whereas United’s three most creative players ran riot with it.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dzeko, and Pellegrini caused United’s defence issues in the first half and looked as though they were providing effective cover for their own shaky defence. They offered little attacking threat in the second half though, and Roma felt like sitting ducks at the other end.
When a side has players with the individual quality that Cavani, Pogba, and Fernandes have, any game can suddenly turn in their favour. Thursday at Old Trafford was an exhibition of that.
The equaliser came from a sweeping move that saw Cavani fire Fernandes’ pass into the top corner of what had become Antonio Mirante’s net, following an injury to Pau Lopez. The former Napoli man completed the turnaround when he instinctively pounced on a loose ball after Mirante sloppily spilled Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s low shot.
In a game where Roma had already been forced into three substitutions through injury, their luck got even worse. Cavani was bought down by Chris Smalling as he attempted to convert a Marcus Rashford cross, but replays showed the contact was minimal. Nonetheless, the penalty was given and duly converted by Fernandes. At this point, United looked as though they could score at will.
Four minutes later, the tie was over. It was Paul Pogba’s turn to join in the scoring, powerfully heading in from Fernandes’ cross following a short corner. As has been seen in games such as the 9-0 win over Southampton and the 6-2 win against Leeds United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were not going to let up.
The deadly trio capped off their night as Cavani turned provider, hitting a cross-field ball with the outside of his foot to play Mason Greenwood in, who powered his shot through Mirante.
Roma do not possess players who can take control of a game like Pogba, Cavani, and Fernandes did at this level. Whilst still excellent players, Dzeko and Mkhitaryan’s best days are behind them, and Pellegrini is still honing his craft. There’s talent there, though, and there is a reason why Manchester United have been repeatedly linked with a move for him.