Europa League: previews and predictions for the semi-finals
Manchester United v Roma
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is looking to end his dire record in semi-finals when Manchester United take on Roma. The Norwegian has lost his last four semi-finals, falling to defeat twice to Manchester City in the League Cup, to Chelsea in the FA Cup and to Sevilla at this stage of the Europa League last season.
United played out an awful goalless draw with Leeds on Sunday, but that stalemate at Elland Road at least means they have now lost just one of their last 21 competitive matches (the home defeat to Sheffield United in January).
United have played three ties in the Europa League this season, having dropped into the competition midway through the campaign. They beat Granada 2-0 home and away in the last 32, but have subsequently failed to win against Milan or Real Sociedad at Old Trafford. They did what was required of them in the away legs, though, beating Milan 1-0 in Italy thanks to a goal from Paul Pogba and thrashing Real Sociedad 4-0 in Spain to reach the semi-finals.
Solskjær has little to worry about in terms of injuries. Anthony Martial is ruled out after a knee injury sustained on international duty, and Phil Jones, who would not have started anyway, is also sidelined. As has become custom, David de Gea is set to start between the sticks, relegating Dean Henderson to the bench in the process. Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba were both introduced in the second half against Leeds over the weekend, but should return to the starting XI.
Roma come into this match on the back of a four-game winless run. Their form has dropped at just the wrong time. They have only won two of their last eight matches, but one of those was against Ajax in Amsterdam and their record on the road in the Europa League has been impressive this season. They have won five of their six away matches in the competition this season and their only defeat – a 3-1 reverse at CSKA Sofia – came after they had secured top spot in their group.
Despite their dip in form, Roma should not be underestimated. Now seventh in Serie A, they are almost certainly out of the race to finish in the top four, so will be focussing all of their efforts on qualifying for the Champions League via the Europa League.
Two familiar faces to United are available for Roma boss Paulo Fonseca. Chris Smalling started the 3-2 defeat to Cagliari at the weekend, marking his return to action after six weeks on the sidelines and he should feature in a back three. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another player looking to impress against his former employers over the two legs.
Fonseca is without injured duo Nicolo Zaniolo and Pedro, and the suspended Gianluca Mancini. He should be well stocked for players to deputise in their positions but the manager has a decision to make on his striker for the trip to Old Trafford should he continue with a system that uses a lone frontman.
Borja Mayoral is the joint top scorer in the Europa League this season with seven goals but, after reaching a truce with Edin Dzeko following their falling out earlier in the year, Fonseca dropped Mayoral for the Bosnian in the quarter-final meetings with Ajax, so he could lead the line again.
Prediction: Manchester United to win the first leg and progress to the final.
Villarreal v Arsenal
While Villarreal have stumbled in La Liga, their Europa League form has been as impressive as you would expect from a side managed by Unai Emery. The Spaniard won the competition three times with Sevilla and is hoping to add to that tally with Villarreal.
The Yellow Submarine have been superb in the competition this season. They have won 11 of their 12 matches so far (drawing the other), and have won all six of their matches at the Estadio de la Cerámica. They are at full strength for the visit of Arsenal, bar the absence of midfielder Vicente Iborra.
Pervis Estupiñán returned to action in their 2-1 defeat to Barcelona on Sunday and, while Manu Trigueros was sent off midway through the second half of that match, he is available to face Arsenal. Emery is expected to rotate in attack, with Carlos Bacca preferred to Paco Alcácer as Gerard Moreno’s strike partner in the Europa League but, other than that, wholesale changes are not expected.
Arsenal go into the game on the back of a surprise home 1-0 defeat to Everton in which Bernd Leno’s second-half error proved costly. The Gunners are unbeaten in seven on the road, though, and Arteta will be hoping to prove the club made the right decision when they sacked Emery and took a gamble on him.
Arteta says Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kieran Tierney all have a chance of featuring in Spain. David Luiz is also back in training following a knee injury and Eddie Nketiah is on standby to lead the charge should Lacazette or Aubameyang not be fit enough to start.
The Arsenal boss has another decision to make in attack: whether to persist with Nicolas Pépé or start one of Martin Ødegaard or Gabriel Martinelli from the left. Pépé, though, has been superb in the Europa League this season, having had a direct hand in nine of Arsenal’s 32 goals, scoring five and setting up four. He has a higher WhoScored rating than any other player in the competition.
Prediction: Villarreal to win the first leg and progress to the final.
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