Saturday, September 25

Europa League: progress and predictions for the semi-finals | European League

Manchester United v Roma

Ole Gunnar Solskjær looks to end his terrible semi-final record when Manchester United take on Roma. The Norwegian has lost his last four semi-finals, falling by twice defeating Manchester City in the League Cup, Chelsea in the FA Cup and Sevilla at this stage of the Europa League last season.

United played a terrible goalless draw with Leeds on Sunday, but that stalemate at Elland Road at least means they have now only lost one of their last 21 competitive matches (the home loss to Sheffield United in January).

United have played three ties in the Europa League this season, having lost in the competition mid-season. They beat Granada 2-0 at home and away in the round of 16, but subsequently failed to win against Milan or Real Sociedad at Old Trafford. However, they did what they were asked to do in the first leg matches, beating Milan 1-0 in Italy thanks to a Paul Pogba goal 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 suffered on international service, and Phil Jones, who wouldn’t have started anyway, is out as well. As has become customary, David de Gea is ready to start between the sticks, relegating Dean Henderson to the bench in the process. Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba were featured in the second half against Leeds over the weekend, but they should return to the starting eleven.

Roma come into this match after a four-game winless streak. His form has fallen at the wrong time. They have only won two of their last eight games, but one of them was against Ajax in Amsterdam and their Europa League away record has been impressive this season. They have won five of their six away games in competition this season and their only loss, a 3-1 setback at CSKA Sofia, came after securing first place in their group.

Despite their decline 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 they will focus all their efforts on qualifying for the Champions League through the Europa League.

Infographic: WhoScored.
Infographic: Who scored.

Two familiar United faces are available for Roma manager Paulo Fonseca. Chris Smalling started the 3-2 loss to Cagliari at the weekend, marking his return to action after six weeks on the sidelines and should be in the bottom three. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another player looking to impress his former bosses in both stages.

Fonseca is left without the injured duo Nicolo Zaniolo and Pedro, and the suspended Gianluca Mancini. It should be well provided for players to substitute in their positions, but the coach has to make a decision on his forward for the trip to Old Trafford should he continue with a system using a lone leader.

Borja Mayoral is the Europa League joint top scorer this season with seven goals but, after reaching a truce with Edin Dzeko after their fight earlier this year, Fonseca eliminated Mayoral for the Bosnian in quarter-final matches with Ajax, so he could lead the line again.

Prediction: Manchester United to win the first leg and go 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 team led by Unai Emery. The Spaniard won the competition three times with Sevilla and hopes to add to that account with Villarreal.

The Yellow Submarine has been excellent in competition this season. They have won 11 of their 12 matches so far (tying the other), and have won all six of their matches at the Estadio de la Cerámica. They are in full force for Arsenal’s visit, except for the absence of midfielder Vicente Iborra.

Pervis Estupiñán returned to action in their 2-1 loss 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 preferring Paco Alcácer as Gerard Moreno’s attacking partner in the Europa League but, other than that, no massive changes are expected.

Who scored
Infographic: Who scored.

Arsenal enter the game after a surprise 1-0 home loss to Everton, in which Bernd Leno’s mistake in the second half proved costly. However, the Gunners are unbeaten in seven on the road, and Arteta hopes to show that the club made the right decision when they fired Emery and took risks for him.

Arteta says that Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kieran Tierney have the opportunity to perform in Spain. David Luiz has also returned to training after a knee injury and Eddie Nketiah is on standby to lead the charge in case Lacazette or Aubameyang are not fit enough to start.

The Arsenal manager has another decision to make in attack: whether to persist with Nicolas Pépé or start one of Martin Ødegaard or Gabriel Martinelli on the left. Pépé, however, has been excellent in the Europa League this season, having had a direct hand on 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 go to the final.

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