By STEVE DOUGLAS: Manchester United’s players have been nothing if not consistent in the semifinals of major tournaments over the last year and a half.
They have played in four played, and they have lost in four. No. 5 is coming up on Thursday when Roma visits Old Trafford for the first leg of the Europa League semifinals and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has reason to believe this time will be different.
“The players have had another year, they’re more experienced and they’ve come through some difficult times,” the United manager said. “And with the motivation of having those disappointments, I’m confident we’ll get a good performance.”
The first loss came in the League Cup semifinals in January 2020, when United was eliminated by crosstown rival Manchester City over two legs. Then there were defeats against Chelsea and Sevilla in the semifinals of the FA Cup and Europa League, respectively, after soccer returned following the suspension caused by the coronavirus outbreak. And it was a familiar story in January, when United was beaten 2-0 by City in a League Cup semifinal rematch.
The opponents have been tough, no doubt, but that hasn’t stopped United from collecting a reputation of choking on the big occasion under Solskjaer, who is still awaiting his first trophy since taking over as manager as the replacement for Jose Mourinho in December 2018.
Solskjaer has analyzed each of the losses in the semifinals and hasn’t spotted an obvious reason why United keeps falling short, except for the quality of the opposition.
Roma, which is seventh in Serie A, is probably the weakest team United has faced in this run of last-four meetings and Solskjaer insisted Wednesday he meant no disrespect when he said about the Italian team after the win over Granada in the quarterfinals: “I’ve not seen too much of them.”
Roma fans are using the words as ammunition for their team — posters have been put up around the city of Solskjaer, along with those comments — but the United manager downplayed it and said Roma was a “fantastic club with a great history.”
“I’ve actually got two prized possessions back home, a Totti shirt and a De Rossi shirt that I’ve swapped with them,” he said, referring to two of the greatest players in Roma’s modern history, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. “They’re actually signed, so I know about the history, I know about the quality.”
It is a rather fraught time at United, with fans protesting against the club’s ownership — the Glazer family — for its involvement in the plan to hatch a European Super League. That was quickly abandoned last week, but anti-Glazer sentiment has been reignited and it was put to Solskjaer that the achievement of winning the Europa League would be devalued in a sense because United’s owners don’t appear to care about the competition. “I’ve had a very good relationship with the owners and with the club. They’ve employed me as manager, they listen to my views,” he said. “It’s my job to give my opinion and do the best for the club and for them.
“I’ve had so many years at the club, I’m looking forward to trying to bring success to the team. That’s my focus. Bringing fans, players and the club together.”
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