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There was elation for everyone in a Manchester United shirt last night after their crushing first-leg tennis score against Roma – except maybe one.
While virtually all the action was at the other end as United’s strikeforce ripped the Italians apart, David de Gea was left to stew on how a night with his feet up still saw him picking the ball out of his net twice.
It was only the second time United had only conceded more than a goal in a game in their last 19 matches and while the statistic was irrelevant to the outcome it just goes to show that when your luck is out it stays out – however much your team-mates are having fun.
Having slipped behind Dean Henderson in the pecking order, Thursday night represented a rare opportunity for United’s highest-paid player to remind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his worth.
Instead he ended up being beaten by Lorenzo Pellegrini’s 15th minute penalty – it is five years since De Gea saved one – and Edin Dzeko’s customary Old Trafford goal as the United goalkeeper was let down by the screen in front of him with the dangerous Lorenzo Pellegrini given far too much room by Fred.
The best that can be said of his second half is that he had a great end-on view of the Cavani show.
De Gea did make one routine stop from a Dzeko header but with the goals flashing in at the Stretford End there was no chance to make any sort of positive impression.
As for his distribution, that remains as flaky as ever with two stay passes going unpunished by Roma in the first half and a routine clearance just after half-time cannoning straight into Dzeko just outside the penalty area. Fortunately the ball ran dead.
It is a team game of course and De Gea will be happy that United are effectively in the final but there was nothing from him last night to change the manager’s mind over who is now his No 1.
Man United 6-2 Roma: Gideon Brooks’ match report
If it was not already clear last night made it obvious why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing all he can to keep Edinson Cavani at Old Trafford next season.
If he fails in his attempts to sell another winter in Manchester’s rain, he will hope the Uruguayan might yet leave them with a European trophy.
Two moments of pure class against Roma – one assist and a predator’s finish which both took the breath away – kept Solskjaer’s side in this semi final after Roma converted a penalty and Edin Dzeko did what he frequently does against United.
The veteran striker added a tapped-in third, managed to ‘win’ a penalty which made a mockery of both referee and, after Pogba had added a fifth, laid on the sixth for Mason Greenwood.
Such an emphatic scoreline makes it inconceivable Solskjaer will not end a semi-final hoodoo which has seen him lose four since taking over at Old Trafford and march into the final of this in Gdansk on May 26.
If he can keep Bruno Fernandes purring, Cavani fit and Pogba in this sort of form a trophy and repeat of their win in 2017 looks a realistic prospect.
Solskjaer admitted he agonised over the choice of Cavani over Greenwood, ultimately being swayed by the veteran’s strong performance against Tottenham earlier this month.
Man Utd: Solskjaer to do all he can to convince Cavani to stay
It was a choice vindicated early and later spectacularly given the Uruguayan was in the thick of a stunning team goal after just nine minutes to provide the perfect start.
Pogba’s drove skilfully in from the left and picked out Cavani who deflected with pinpoint geometry and touch into the path of Bruno Fernandes, the Portuguese calmly chipping the Pau Lopez as he went to ground.
It was a perfect start but Roma were level from the penalty spot on 15 minutes, Pogba unfortunate to handball trying to block Rick Karsdorp’s centre from the right byline only for the ball to flick up off his leg to his right hand. Lorenzo Pellegrini converted from the spot.
After half an hour the Italians took the lead and it was a familiar face in Dzeko who bundled it in after Pellegrini dissected Harry Maguire and De Gea with sharp ball across three yards out.
It was Dzeko’s eighth goal against United including seven here at Old Trafford with Man City, Wolfsburg and now Roma. United did not panic.
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Pogba might have made amends forcing a fine save from Lopez on 25 minutes and Cavani might have dragged them level in first half added time after pouncing on a poor backpass and twice being denied by Lopez’s replacement Antonio Mirante and Smalling.
Three minutes into the second half he made no mistake combining with Fernandes again, the latter providing and Cavani holding off Karsdorp before and hitting an unstoppable whipcrack finish into the top corner.
A poacher’s finish on 64 minutes came next, reacting quickest after Mirante parried Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s shot form the right side of the area.
Cavani, apparently cold on the idea of extending his £12m a year deal another 12 months, was not done here, although the same could not be said of the referee after Smalling was adjudged to have fouled the United man on 71 minutes.
Quite what match official Carlos del Carro Grande saw remains unclear.
But Fernandes, who was at his brilliant best on the night, converted for a 26th goal of his campaign. Cavani completed the cruise laying on the assist for Greenwood’s late finish.
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