Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer make it fifth time lucky as boss of Manchester United?

The former striker has lost all four semi-finals since he took charge at Old Trafford.
Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer make it fifth time lucky as boss of Manchester United?

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Manchester United host Roma in the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday evening.

Ahead of the first leg at Old Trafford, we pick out some of the main talking points.

First final under Solskjaer within reach

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side lost to Sevilla in last season's Europa League semi-finals
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side lost to Sevilla in last season’s Europa League semi-finals. Photo: PA Wire via DPA

As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer comes towards the end of his second full season at the Old Trafford helm, the 1999 treble hero is hoping to make it fifth time lucky having fallen just short in four semi-finals.

Last season’s final four exits in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League were followed by going out at the same stage of this term’s Carabao Cup.

Roma are no pushover but the side second in the Premier League have the chance to reach their first final under Solskjaer and move tantalisingly close to a first trophy under their former striker.

Smalling to start on his Old Trafford return?

United have not won a trophy since lifting the Europa League aloft in 2017, when Jose Mourinho’s men beat Ajax 2-0 in the Stockholm showpiece.

Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan started that day but will now look to end the Red Devils’ hopes by propelling Roma to glory. Mkhitaryan scored in that 2017 win and has become a key figure for the Giallorossi, who Smalling joined in a permanent deal last year after an impressive loan stint.

But the defender looked rusty on his return from a six-week absence with a knee injury in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Cagliari so may not be ready to start.

Will Solskjaer upset Roma again?

Solskjaer’s face has been plastered near the Roma training ground by disgruntled fans, who took umbrage with an innocuous comment he made after United’s quarter-final triumph against Granada. “I don’t know them and I haven’t seen them play” is the offending quote and accompanies a picture of the smiling Norwegian on posters that are completed with fans saying “make sure he remembers us!”

If those comments hurt Roma fans, then the 7-1 Champions League defeat at Old Trafford that Solskjaer was a part of in April 2007 must have really stung.

Who will start between the sticks for United?

Dean Henderson and David De Gea are competing to start for Manchester United
Dean Henderson and David De Gea are competing to start for Manchester United (Richard Heathcote/PA)

The topic remains important, even if Solskjaer continues to give little away about it. David De Gea and Dean Henderson have swapped roles in recent months, with the Spaniard becoming cup goalkeeper as the academy graduate lines up for Premier League matches.

De Gea has long been United’s number one and Solskjaer has to tread carefully as the Europa League edges towards a conclusion given how his decision to drop Sergio Romero for the semi-final of this competition last season ended up.

The Argentina international had been one of the best back-ups in the world for a number of years, but has not featured this season and will leave on a free this summer.

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