After a serene win that saw Granada brushed aside 4-0 on aggregate, Manchester United will hope to end a run of four consecutive semi-final disappointments under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Only Roma block their way to next month’s showpiece in Gdańsk and with Paulo Fonseca’s side currently sitting seventh in Serie A, 20 points behind the leaders, Internazionale, United, as England’s second ranked team, should be confident of progressing over two legs.
Tonight they barely moved into high gear, doing so only for Edinson Cavani’s early finish that handed Granada a blow and all but extinguished their tilt at executing a shock in what, as an inaugural venture into continental competition, was the biggest occasion in their history.
With Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire all suspended, Alex Telles, Fred and Axel Tuanzebe were drafted in as three of five changes from Sunday’s win at Tottenham. It was Tuanzebe’s first involvement since his 45-minute cameo in the 0-0 draw here with Real Sociedad two months ago.
United’s two-goal cushion meant Spain’s eighth-place side kicked off with only a long shot of progressing. The picture would change, though, if Diego Martínez’s side could keep Solskjær’s team out and score a goal of their own on hostile turf to disrupt United’s equilibrium.
That hope lasted just over five minutes, as Cavani struck to make Granada’s task even harder. 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 then 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 closest from a corner that had 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 the visitors still had and there was a feistiness evident in players from both sides – particularly Pogba, who was booked for a flying arm that hit Granada’s captain, Germán.
The midfielder then escaped another yellow card moments later when tangling with Herrera. Instead, Roberto Soldado went into Istvan Kovacs’s notepad for dissent.
Pogba has no reputation for aggression and so his spikiness might have been due to a wish to lead from the front, as he wore the armband for a second time under Solskjær.
Yet that urgency was hard to find throughout his team, which was understandable considering their lead.
As a result, the contest meandered in the middle third before Soldado sprayed a pass wildly when given room ahead of De Gea. Then, in United’s next move, Bruno Fernandes smashed an instant shot that Silva gratefully watched rise over the bar. Fernandes was 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 at least have troubled Rui Silva.
The Portuguese has 24 goals this season, with Marcus Rashford the next best in United ranks with 20. The latter started on the bench and with United coasting at half-time there seemed scant prospect of him being introduced. 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 Rui Silva’s hands and would surely have been slotted away by the more lethal Greenwood of last season.
With Roma seemingly going 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 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, with the centre-back easing alongside the striker and sticking 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 Silva for an own goal to complete United’s easy evening.