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This is Solskjaer's best chance of ending his semi-final misery


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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

PA

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's struggles in semi-finals are well-known by now.

This meeting with Roma in the last-four of the Europa League will be his fifth appearance at this late stage of a cup competition as manager of Manchester United but the other four ended in defeat.

The wait for a first final goes on and Solskjaer's personal wait stretches further back still.

Solskjaer has won only one semi-final in his decade of senior management and even then required a shoot-out.

Does that matter? Does it have any bearing on his chances of reaching the Gdansk showpiece next month? Almost certainly not. Beat Roma over these two legs, the first at Old Trafford tonight, and Solskjaer's semi-final record will be largely forgotten.

Yet United's habit of stumbling at this stage has become a bigger talking point with each disappointment and, each time, it has raised familiar questions. Is this a team in need of taking the next step but struggling to do so? Is this repeated choking evidence of a mental block? And whether or not this semi-final curse exists, is it in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?

After their most recent last-four failure, the Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester City in January, Solskjaer rubbished all those theories and instead pointed to the standard of opposition.

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City were also responsible for the first of the four semi-final defeats in last season's Carabao Cup, outclassing Solskjaer's side in the first leg, but United were favourites for the other two semi-finals. They were then poor in their FA Cup elimination against Chelsea and though Sevilla are hardened knockout specialists, the gut-wrenching defeat in Cologne was full of familiar shortcomings.

Solskjaer said yesterday that all those defeats have been analysed for clues but did not go into detail about lessons which have been learned, if indeed any have.

Even so, he was confident that United are in their best position yet to finally reach a final. Aside from Anthony Martial and long-term absentee Phil Jones, he has a clean bill of health. With a Champions League spot all but sewn up, this competition can take priority. And if there is any positive to losing four consecutive semi-finals, it is the incentive not to lose a fifth.

"The players have had another year, they're more experienced, they've come through difficult times," Solskjaer said. "With the motivation of having those disappointments, I feel very confident we get a good performance."

United are not only favourites for the tie but favourites to lift the trophy. This is Solskjaer's best chance yet to end all talk of a supposed semi-final hoodoo or to stop one from developing.

Man Utd v Roma

Old Trafford, Tonight, 8pm

(© The Independent)


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