Manchester United booked their place in the Europa League final despite a 3-2 loss to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday. An excellent brace from Edinson Cavani was not enough for United to avoid defeat on the night, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side progress 8-5 on aggregate after a thrilling two legs. They’ll meet Spanish side Villarreal in Gdańsk for the final on May 26.
Despite the semifinal looking all but over after United’s 6-2 first leg victory, the return fixture was played with a frenetic tempo. Roma had a couple of big chances in the first couple of minutes, with David de Gea denying Gianluca Mancini from point-blank range before Henrikh Mkhitaryan headed a corner into the side-netting.
At the other end, Cavani enjoyed feasting on Roma’s exposed back line, and he almost broke the deadlock midway through the first half. A ball over the top of the defence found the Uruguayan in acres of space, though his delicate chip clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over. Five minutes later, Cavani timed a beautiful run onto a Bruno Fernandes through ball, but was denied in the one-on-one by a strong Antonio Mirante save.
Roma soon hit back, with Mkhitaryan straining to head a Pedro cross off-target, and a low Lorenzo Pellegrini snapshot palmed away by De Gea at the near post. Cavani, however, was a constant threat on the break, and he finally opened the scoring five minutes before halftime, largely thanks to some smart link-up play from Fred. The Brazilian broke from midfield and nudged the ball into the striker’s path; Cavani made no mistake when clean through, lashing past Mirante for 1-0.
United should’ve been home and hosed at 7-2, and Solskjær certainly assumed they were. At halftime he removed both first-choice full-backs, and introduced Alex Telles and Brandon Williams. However, two Roma goals in three minutes early in the second half completely changed the game. Edin Džeko notched the first, popping up to head a scuffed Pedro cross past de Gea for 1-1. Three minutes later, the hosts took the lead, with Bryan Cristante lashing home after Fred had his pocket picked deep in the United half.
Roma suddenly had United on the ropes, and created a string of clear-cut chances in the following few minutes. United preserved their one-goal deficit only thanks to some superb goalkeeping from de Gea, who was on hand to repel efforts by both Pedro and Mkhitaryan.
In the end, it was up to Cavani to snuff out Roma’s hopes of a miraculous comeback, and he duly obliged. Once more, Bruno Fernandes was the provider, chipping a wonderful deep cross into the Roma box for an unmarked Cavani to head home. There can be little doubt that the 34-year-old is currently up there with the very best strikers on the planet, and that United need to tie him down for another season at all costs.
However, Roma weren’t done there, and netted a third with just over five minutes of normal time remaining. A deep cross from the left was caught on the volley by teenage debutant Nicola Zalewski, and bounced in off the legs of Alex Telles. It was a special moment for the 19-year-old, and capped a deserved win for Roma on the night. United will, however, face Villarreal in the final, who progressed courtesy of a goalless draw at Arsenal in the second leg of their tie on Thursday.