The Europa League has reached its penultimate stage, with the first leg of the semi-finals getting underway on Thursday night. And what a night of action it was.
Manchester United and Roma played out another eight-goal thriller, with the hosts coming from behind to win 6-2 with a stellar second half performance.
It was not as joyous of an evening for the other remaining English side, as Arsenal suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Villarreal.
While one tie looks to be over, the other is wide open. It will be worth keeping an eye on the second leg at the Emirates.
Bruno Fernandes silences critics with exceptional performance
Since signing from Sporting CP in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has been the star man at Old Trafford. His numbers have been nothing short of incredible, and he has brought Man Utd from sixth-place strugglers to outsiders for the title.
However, there has been one major blot on his otherwise brilliant time in England – his record in the big games. The Portuguese is still yet to register a goal or an assist from open play against any of the ‘Big Six’. This is a stat that the Man City and Liverpool fans on Twitter will not let you forget about.
Against Roma, he kept the doubters quiet with arguably his greatest performance in a Red Devils shirt. He began the night in fine fashion, finishing off a wonderful move with an elegant dink over the onrushing Pau Lopez to put his side 1-0 up.
The first half went sour after that, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side going in at the break 2-1 down thanks to goals by Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edin Dzeko. They needed an improved performance in the second half, and that’s what they got.
Fernandes was once again the catalyst for their second half joy, directly contributing to another three goals. He had a hand in their early equaliser, slipping one through for Edinson Cavani to emphatically finish into the top corner, and later made it 4-2 from the penalty spot.
But he still wasn’t done there, and he got his second assist of the game with an inch-perfect cross for Paul Pogba. The Frenchman could hardly miss, converting from six yards out. Mason Greenwood came off the bench and added a late sixth, leaving Solskjaer’s men four goals ahead in the tie.
Cavani and Pogba must also take a lot of credit. Both were also influential in helping Man Utd take a commanding lead into the second leg.
Three years ago, Roma pulled off one of the most famous comebacks in European football history, overturning a three-goal deficit against Barcelona to progress to the Champions League semi-finals. When they welcome Man Utd to the Stadio Olimpico, they will have to outdo what they did that night.
In short, Man Utd are almost certainly in the final. And, whether they face Arsenal or Villarreal in Gdansk, they will be the favourites. They took a huge step towards ending their four-year trophy drought on Thursday, and Fernandes was a huge reason why.
Revenge is sweet for Unai Emery
During Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal, he became somewhat of a meme on social media. And by ‘somewhat’ I mean he became a full blown meme. Some of his bizarre decisions, coupled with his struggle to fully master the English language, led many of the United Kingdom’s spectators to relentlessly mock him day in day out. Heck, ‘good ebening’ was trending on Twitter on Thursday in tribute to the Spaniard.
Firstly, just one thing to get out of the way – it’s highly ironic for British people to make fun of someone else’s ability to learn a language, considering that the British idea of speaking in another country is just talking really loudly and slowly and hoping that they understand you. Go over to Spain and have a flawless conversation with a native, correct pronunciation and all – THEN you can make fun of Unai Emery. Until then, grow up.
Emery has handled this situation excellently. Instead of rising to it, he has responded in the perfect way. There is only one thing that truly hurts a football fan, and that’s when their side loses.
The three-time Europa League winner inflicted pain on his former employers with a devastating first half performance. Villarreal quickly raced into a 2-0 lead with goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol in the opening half an hour.
The second half, however, wasn’t so ideal for the Yellow Submarine. Samuel Chukwueze and Gerard Moreno both spurned chances to make it 3-0, and Nicolas Pepe converted a contentious penalty to give the Gunners a potentially vital away goal.
Nonetheless, it was a result that Emery would have been very pleased with. Next week, they travel to the Emirates knowing that a draw will set them up for the chance to win their first major trophy in their history.