Manchester United have reached the Europa League final after 3-2 loss on the night to Roma, and a somewhat ludicrous 8-5 win on aggregate.
The tie was pretty much over from the first leg as United blew the Italian side away with 6-2 win at Old Trafford but they made hard work of tonight’s game with some shaky defending in the second half.
The win takes Ole to his first final as Manchester United boss and breaks an irritating run of losing four semi-finals in a row.
Here’s five things we learned from tonight’s win…
De Gea shows his experience
Whether De Gea or Henderson will be United’s No.1 come next season, De Gea has shown his maturity since being dropped in Premier League games for the Englishman.
De Gea was brought into action early-doors after a free-kick ran through to Mancini and De Gea was forced to make a world-class save from close quarters. If it had gone in it would no doubt have been ruled out for handball, but De Gea was not to know that.
The Spaniard covered for Luke Shaw’s blushes moments later, making a vital block, as the left-back was robbed of possession on the byline. He also made a brilliant save close range from United old boy Henrik Mkhitaryan. While the scoreline eventually went United’s way, the team wobbled for a brief stretch, and these De Gea saves ensured a revitalised Roma did not cause an upset.
United have only conceded six goals in the Europa League with the Spaniard between the sticks for most of the games which, considering his shaky form in the earlier stages of this season, should be seen as a shrewd move by Ole.
Bailly states his case in defence
All this, of course, has to prefaced with ‘if he can stay fit’, but if he can, Bailly is Maguire’s best centre back partner and if he could be relied upon would save Ole from possibly buying another centre back this summer.
His athleticism, pace and presence complements Maguire in a way that Lindelof sometimes does not, and his ability to burst forward with the ball is incredibly exciting, if not a little nerve-wracking.
With set pieces remaining a significant weakness for United’s defence, maintaining a reliable aerial presence could have saved United plenty of goals this season
While he is prone to erratic behaviour, slamming the ball into Maguire’s back just outside his area with no pressure on, being an example. His positioning and recovery pace means he could be a solution to a likely constrained transfer budget this summer… if he can stay fit.
Cavani has to stay
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating – United must keep hold of Cavani next season if they want any chance of challenging for the major honours.
His runs, movement and finishing are still world class and he is passing his wisdom onto the younger United players.
He had two fantastic opportunities to score in the first half, clipping the top of the bar with one, but uncharacteristically did not put them away.
However moments later he showed why Ole brought him in over last summer and buried the ball after a fantastic run and pass. He saved United from potential embarrassment with a poachers goal in the second half to bring them back level on 2-2.
United frailties exposed again
From two fairly innocuous phases of play came Roma’s two goals and showed that United’s defence is not strong enough yet to be relied upon to challenge for the league, or get further than group stages in the Champions League.
A ten-minute spell in the second half saw United concede two goals and if not for some sensational De Gea goalkeeping, could have been three more. It took the gloss off what was a controlled first half and showed that United are far too capable of shooting themselves in the foot with avoidable defensive errors.
Poor marking in the box and Fred’s dawdling leaked another two goals in a season that has seen United concede 35 goals in the Premier League. United were also saved by the offside flag late into the second half when Telles lost his man at the back post.
Despite a solid return to the first team from Bailly and Maguire getting into good defensive positions, the players in front of them allowed too much to get through and will surely be the area Ole looks to strengthen come summer.
United shake semi-final curse to reach the Europa League final
Though they attempted to make it harder than it needed to be, United are deservedly through to the Europa League final and shake off a frustrating run of never making a final under Ole, despite four attempts.
And Ole will feel vindicated with his side’s performance this season, reaching a final and potentially finishing second is no mean feat. It has been an odd season, and there are certainly areas of improvement required, but reaching the final of the Europa League puts Ole in a brilliant position to show he is making progress, something he is so often accused of not achieving.
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