After a serene win in which Granada were cuffed aside 4-0 on aggregate, Manchester United will hope to end a run of four consecutive semi-final disappointments under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Roma block their way to next month’s showpiece in Gdansk but with Paulo Fonseca’s side seventh in Serie A and 20 points behind the leaders, Internazionale, England’s second-ranked team will be confident of progressing.
“The next step is to get to a final, win a trophy, get over the line. That is the aim,” said Solskjær. “I can see the hunger and motivation in the players. I’ve not seen too much of them [Roma]. They defend well, as Italian teams always do. We all know Edin Dzeko so every ball into the box is a dangerous one.
“We are looking forward to it. We’re in the semis – it feels like a proper European tie because Roma is a club with lots of history. We’re going into it hoping to get to the final. If we can finish the season with a trophy that would be great.”
United’s two-goal cushion meant Granada, Spain’s eighth-placed side, kicked off with only a long shot of progressing. The picture would change, though, if Diego Martínez’s side could keep Solskjær’s out and score a goal of their own on hostile turf to disrupt United’s equilibrium.
That hope lasted little more than five minutes, as Edinson Cavani struck to make their task even harder. Alex Telles’s cross was allowed to land on Paul Pogba’s head with no defender challenging, and he found the Uruguayan with ease. Cavani steadied himself and swung his left foot through the ball, volleying expertly past Rui Silva.
Solskjær punched the air while Granada were deflated. Still, they responded by moving upfield and posing questions of a reconfigured back-four of which only half – Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelöf – were first choice. The Spanish side went close from a corner that found Yangel Herrera rising clear of the home defence and beating David de Gea with a header, but not the goalkeeper’s left post.
It was a sign of how much fight remained in the visitors and a feistiness was evident in players on both sides – particularly Pogba, who was booked for a flying arm that hit Granada’s captain, Germán.
The United midfielder then escaped another yellow card moments later when tangling with Herrera. Pogba is hardly renowned for aggression so his spikiness might have been due to an urge to lead from the front: he was wearing the captain’s armband for a second time under Solskjær.
Yet his urgency was hard to find throughout the rest of his team, which was understandable considering their lead. As a result, the contest meandered before Roberto Soldado sprayed a pass wildly when given room ahead of De Gea, before Bruno Fernandes smashed an instant shot that Rui Silva watched rise over the bar.
Fernandes had been enduring a drought by his standards – only two goals in his last eight appearances – and showed why by dragging his next chance wide when he should have troubled Silva. The Portuguese has 24 goals this season, with Marcus Rashford the next best in United’s ranks with 20. The latter was a substitute and with United coasting at half-time he was not introduced.
“He’s been playing with a sore foot. We hope he’s going to be ready [for Burnley on Sunday],” said his manager. “He was on the bench just in case because you never know in a knockout tie.”
Solskjær shrewdly removed Pogba (and the chance of a second yellow) for the eternal substitute Donny van de Beek at the break. The Dutchman’s last start was three weeks ago; in a total of 30 United appearances, 18 had been as a replacement. His opening act was to skate along the right and float a precise ball on to Mason Greenwood’s head. It deserved a finish rather than the weak effort that went straight into Silva’s hands; it would surely have been slotted away by the more lethal Greenwood of last season.
With Roma heading through at Ajax’s expense as the evening’s ties entered their closing stages, the Italians beckoned as last-four opponents United would hope to beat and thus end their run of four semi-final defeats from four under Solskjær. For most of a relaxed outing Axel Tuanzebe had been able to puff on the proverbial cigar but he showed his class when Luis Suárez suddenly gained a half-yard on him, only for the centre-back to ease alongside the striker and stick out a leg to block.
At the other end, a Greenwood raid had the ball spinning to Van de Beek whose instant shot rolled just wide of the right post.
In the final stages Jesús Vallejo turned past Rui Silva for an own goal to complete United’s easy evening.