Manchester United v Roma: United to edge towards Gdansk
The first legs of the Europa League semi-finals are on Thursday, and Kevin Hatchard believes Manchester United can carve out an advantage against Roma...
Solskjaer seeks trophy validation
By his own admission, Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is seeking silverware to underline the progress he feels his side is making. With Champions League qualification effectively assured through the Premier League placing, the Red Devils can prioritise trying to win a tournament they came close to securing last term.
Profligacy was the key to United's semi-final failure in Germany last season, and they missed a host of chances in a careless and painful final-four defeat against eventual UEL winners Sevilla.
Solskjaer has overseen semi-final losses in the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League, and knows it's high time his charges at least reached a major final. For all the talk of rebuilding and youth development, Manchester United remains a club where the acquisition of silverware is a requirement, not a distant and fanciful dream.
United have been effective in the knockout stage. They have swept aside Spanish outfits Real Sociedad and Granada, and produced an impressive effort over two legs to knock out Milan. They have conceded just one goal in six knockout games, and apart from a poor first half at San Siro, they have performed well. They are rightly the 2.2 favourites in the Europa League Winner market.
Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay are all back from suspension, while Anthony Martial is still struggling with injury.
Roma have gone all-in on UEL dream
You often see teams fully focus on one competition at the expense of others, and that seems to have been the case in recent weeks and months with Roma. The Giallorossi have overcome Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax in the Europa League, but their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish in Serie A have evaporated. They are currently seventh in Italy's top flight, 11 points off the top four and six adrift of the top six.
The thing that has been most alarming about Roma's recent domestic displays is how easy it is to get at their defensive line. Modest teams like Torino and Cagliari have made hay against Paulo Fonseca's side, scoring three goals apiece in notable and much-needed wins. Roma have leaked 51 league goals, the worst record in the top half of the division. They have managed just two shut-outs in their last two league games. Even the recent return of former Manchester United defender Chris Smalling hasn't yet solved their issues - he started the weekend's shambolic 3-2 reverse at Cagliari.
It's also worth noting that Roma rode their luck a bit across the two legs against Ajax. They were 1-0 down in Amsterdam, and keeper Pau Lopez crucially saved a Dusan Tadic penalty that would have made it 2-0. You have to give the Italian giants immense credit for coming back in that first leg to win 2-1, but they were given a few scares in the 1-1 draw that followed in Rome.
Of course, there is quality in attack we must consider. Former Real Madrid prodigy Borja Mayoral has had a great season, and Edin Dzeko is a vastly experienced and high-quality alternative up front. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another former United player, has been involved in 17 Serie A goals this season.
Pedro and Nicolo Zaniolo are still sidelined, but Roma have no fresh injury or suspension concerns.
United to take first-leg lead
United have won their last four home matches, and they haven't lost at Old Trafford since a bizarre reverse against PL no-hopers Sheffield United in late January. Solskjaer has managed to make his team more consistent, and if they perform to their potential, they should beat Roma here. I've been impressed by the results Roma have produced in this competition, but they are flaky in defence, and the team is in poor form.
I'll back United to win and Under 3.5 Goals on the Bet Builder at 2.12. That bet has paid out in four of United's six knockout games in the UEL this term, including the last three.
Cavani can continue fine form
Edinson Cavani is a proven big-game player, and he is the most genuine centre-forward the club has. The Uruguayan has scored in three of his last four matches, and he can be backed to score at 13/10 on the Sportsbook. Bruno Fernandes is the same price.
On the Roma side of things, former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko has historically had a good record against United. Opta tell us he has scored five goals in four visits to Old Trafford, including a brace in each of the last two. You can back the Bosnian to find the net at 11/4.
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