Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it is time for Manchester United to take the next step and reach a first final since 2017 after they eased past Granada to set up a Europa League last-four meeting with Roma.
United won the Europa League in their last final but have lost all four semi-finals in which they have featured during Solskjaer’s reign, including in this competition last season.
Their progress to a fifth was never in doubt after Edinson Cavani provided a smart finish to Paul Pogba’s sixth-minute flicked header to extend their aggregate lead to 3-0, after a two-goal win in Spain last week.
United scored a second in stoppage time when Jesus Vallejo turned Alex Telles’ cross into his own net.
“We will relish the chance to go to a final,” said Solskjaer, who took over in December 2018.
“We want to use disappointments from the defeats we have had to motivate us to get to the final.
“The next step for this team is to get to a final and win a trophy. That will give this group of players something extra.”
As Roma came through a nervy night at the Stadio Olimpico against Ajax, it means a reunion for United old boys Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling, who has been sidelined in recent weeks with a knee injury.
It was a notable night too for Cavani, whose first European goal for United was his 50th in total in continental competition, and ninth of the season overall and will intensify talk about whether the 34-year-old will sign an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of June.
Solskjaer learns his lesson
Earlier this season, in a crucial Champions League group encounter with PSG, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was caught out when he failed to replace Fred, who was on a booking and looking dangerously close to being sent off.
The United boss was criticised when the Brazilian was then shown a red card, leading to a defeat that was part of the reason his side ended up in the Europa League.
There were echoes of that night in the way Pogba needlessly got himself booked midway through the opening period.
Made captain for the night in the absence of Harry Maguire, one of three United players suspended for this game, Pogba was yellow carded for shoving his arm into the face of German Sanchez.
Within minutes, Pogba had caught Yangel Herrera with a late tackle, bringing screams for a dismissal from the Granada players. The protests of former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado were so fierce he was booked by Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs.
Solskjaer resisted an immediate change but, with the tie won, he took the sensible option of replacing Pogba with Donny van de Beek at half-time.
Silverware for Solskjaer?
If United fail to get past Roma and secure silverware this season, it will be four seasons without a trophy, matching the four barren campaigns between United’s FA Cup wins in 1985 and 1990, the latter marking the start of Sir Alex Ferguson’s era of glory.
Mkhitaryan was a goalscorer when United won their last trophy, this competition, in 2017. Pogba was the other.
Together with Marcus Rashford, Pogba will be the only starter from that victory against Ajax in Stockholm likely to be in Solskjaer’s team for the semi-final first leg on 29 April.
United’s victory was only their second in 11 home games against Spanish opposition, which says a lot about Granada’s status compared to the European heavyweights Old Trafford is used to hosting.
They should really have won by more but Bruno Fernandes was off target with a first-time volley from Nemanja Matic’s lofted pass and a low shot from Cavani’s lay-off, and Mason Greenwood also fired wide as United coasted through the remainder of the contest.
Substitute Jorge Molina’s header straight at David de Gea was the highlight for a Granada outfit more notable for the noise they made rather than anything they did on the pitch and who ended the night with an unfortunate own goal.
United are next in action against Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, 18 April (16:00 BST).
‘Roma is a proper European tie’ – what they said
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to BT Sport: “Granada do give you a game. It’s a physical game, they throw people forward. You have to defend in these kind of games.”
On bringing Paul Pogba off at half-time: “Sometimes, Paul wants to win so much… he went into a couple of tackles after his yellow card but I thought I don’t want to risk that [him being sent off] even though he played so well. We missed three today [through suspension]. The season has been hard enough as it is.”
On playing Roma in the semis: “I’ve not seen too much of them. I knew they played two good games against Ajax. They defend well, as Italian teams always do. We all know Edin Dzeko so every ball into the box is a dangerous one.
“We are looking forward to it. We’re in the semis. It feels like a proper European tie because Roma is a club with lots of history. We’ve done well against Italian sides before. If we can finish the season with a trophy that’d be great.”
Miserly United – the stats
- United have reached their 18th semi-final in all European competition (including the Fairs Cup) – only Liverpool (19) have appeared in more among English sides.
- United have won three consecutive knockout stage games without conceding in major European competition for the first time since April 2008.
- Since losing their first two home games in the Europa League back in the 2011-12 season, United have not lost any of their last 17 games at Old Trafford in the competition (W13 D4).
- United have kept five clean sheets in six Europa League games since the turn of the year, more than any other side in 2021.
- Paul Pogba has provided three assists in his last four games in all competitions, as many as in his previous 51 combined.
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