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Roma banking on Smalling, Mkhitaryan experience for Man United clashes

Roma boss Paulo Fonseca is hoping to draw on the experiences of former Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as he plots a route past Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in the Europa League semi-finals.

Thursday night’s first-leg tie will see a return to Old Trafford for Smalling and Mkhitaryan, both of whom have successfully revitalised their stalling careers in the Italian capital.

England centre-back Smalling initially impressed on a season-long loan from United – where he spent 10 years – before sealing a permanent £18.1million switch to Roma back in October, while Mkhitaryan also joined on loan in 2019/20 before Arsenal cancelling his contract by mutual consent allowed the Armenian playmaker to sign on a full-time basis last summer.

Mkhitaryan previously made 63 appearances across all competitions for United between 2016-18 before heading to north London as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez.


Both players have been regulars for Roma when fit, with Smalling only returning from a month-long layoff caused by a knee injury during Sunday’s 3-2 Serie A defeat by Cagliari.

And Fonseca is hoping to tap into their respective insights as he looks to guide the Giallorossi to a first European final since 1984 and continue Solskjaer’s last-four hoodoo in the process.

Both Smalling and Mkhitaryan were members of the United team that lifted the Europa League trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017, with Mkhitaryan scoring in the 2-0 final win over Ajax in Stockholm.

“This match is against a great team, maybe the favourite to win the competition,” Fonseca said at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, via Reuters.

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“We prepared for the match well. I talked to the two of them who played here and have experience in this moment of the competition.

“We know it will be difficult, we respect United but we have our ambitions.

“We don’t always reach a semi-final, we understand the importance of the moment. We have seen our fans and it is important to feel this support. We want to fight for them and for the club.”

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