Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conceded it was not worth the risk for him to keep Paul Pogba on the field as Manchester United ran out comfortable winners over Granada en route to the Europa League semi-finals, a move which the midfielder agreed with.
United booked their place in the Europa League semis with a 2-0 win on Thursday, sealing a 4-0 aggregate victory over the Spanish side.
Edinson Cavani scored his 50th European goal – his first for United in Europe – before Jesus Vallejo headed into his own net in the closing stages as the Red Devils set up a showdown with Roma.
United have sealed their place in the semi-finals of a European competition for the 18th time in total, with Liverpool (19) the only English club to have managed more in that regard.
Pogba, however, was taken off at half-time during the contest. He teed up Cavani’s opener with a clever flick, but received a yellow card shortly after and committed a total of three fouls, including one on Yangel Herrera which resulted in Granada’s players crowding the referee demanding a second booking.
Solskjaer was left reeling after deciding not to take Fred off while the midfielder was on a booking in a Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in December, only for the Brazilian to then see red, and took no chances on this occasion.
He told BT Sport: “I think sometimes in a game, Paul wants to win so much, he went into a couple of tackles after his yellow card, I thought no, I don’t want to risk that. Even though he played well.
“We missed three [players] today, the season’s been hard enough as it is anyway.”
For his part, Pogba had no issue with the reason for his substitution.
“Some tackles, a yellow card. I had to come off obviously,” he told BT Sport. “The yellow card was unfortunate. It wasn’t a yellow card for me but you have to accept it. We won the game, that’s the most important thing.
“I know the foul just after it, I saw all the players trying to get me out. [The manager thought] It’s better I come off before red card.”
3 – Manchester United have won three consecutive knockout stage games without conceding in major European competition for the first time since April 2008. Resolute.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 15, 2021
Solskjaer also suggested United created their own problems to an extent, saying: “[Granada] do give you a game, a physical game. You do have to defend.
“When you can’t keep the ball as long as you should do, it’s more difficult.”
Serie A side Roma – boasting former United players Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling – await in the final four after they overcome Ajax in the quarter-finals.
“I’ve not seen too much of Roma,” Solskjaer continued. “They’ve had two good games against Ajax, they defend well, as Italian teams always do, experienced team, and we all know [Edin] Dzeko, so any ball in the box is a dangerous one.
“We’re looking forward to it of course, we’re in the semi-final, it feels like a proper European tie, Roma is a club with lots of tradition, history, but we’ve done well against Italian teams.”
United reached the semi-finals last season, only to lose to Sevilla.
They have reached four semis previously under Solskjaer, twice in the EFL Cup, once in the FA Cup and once in the Europa League, though they are yet to win a trophy during the Norwegian’s tenure.
“I don’t think there’s any,” Solskjaer responded when asked if his team were scarred by previous defeats.
“You just go into every game wanting to win. We’re going into them hoping to get to the final. If we can finish this season with a final and a trophy, great.”
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