“Gimme Some Lovin’” was the track playing on a commercial at some point in the build-up to tonight’s game at Old Trafford. That was appropriate for a Days of Thunder fan like me, as you have to mentally associate that music track with the montage scene of a young and green Cole Trickle about to get a beating and realize what he’s signed up to when he debuts in his very first NASCAR season. A similar montage awaited Paulo Fonseca’s Roma, who got off to an inauspicious start by conceding a goal in the 9th minute of play.
The absurd manner in which Roma had spent the weeks building up to this tie made itself known sooner than Bruno Fernandes’ opening goal. Jordan Veretout lasted barely two minutes before pulling up with an injury, followed by Pau Lopez and Leonardo Spinazzola injuring themselves in the first half. It was no deeper than the hole Roma dug themselves into, burying themselves under a ton of nervous energy in the build-up to this fixture by tanking the league season. But the unexpected happened in between all that, as Roma went up United’s end of the pitch and score not one but two away goals.
That meant Roma went into half-time with three forced substitutions and an unlikely lead. And what’s more: Manchester United really wasn’t showing much on the ball to scare Roma. The home side’s play was predictable and over-reliant on getting the ball wide out left to Marcus Rashford before cutting it back in the middle to Fernandes. And it would have been nice for Roma if United had kept their play that way in the second half.
... But that’s what not happened.
Instead, a rejuvenated United spent the second 45 of the match threading the ball out wide right, through the middle, through the left. You name it. They played football, hit Roma from every direction, and scored five unanswered goals past Antonio Mirante in one half of play. The exclamation point on United’s performance was the complete, utter, and devastating mismatch of Gonzalo Villar vs. Paul Pogba, but Roma weren’t helped by sub-par showings from Bruno Peres, Antonio Mirante, or Chris Smalling, either.
That three out of those four names were forced first-half substitutions who likely didn't expect to play as much as they did is its own subplot, but we’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Roma are now left needing much more than a Romantada at the Olimpico for the second leg.