Ronaldo breaks out and Roma break – Man Utd's 7-1 win remembered

By Sports Desk April 29, 2021

Old Trafford will not bring Roma many happy memories when they return for their Europa League semi-final first leg against Manchester United on Thursday.

The Giallorossi first made the trip to Manchester in April 2007, having won the home leg of their Champions League last-eight tie.

That had been the sides' first ever meeting and it remains Roma's sole win in six attempts. Three times they have lost at United and the pick of those matches, in 2006-07, saw a remarkable 7-1 humbling.

With the use of Opta data, we look back on that evening and what it meant for those involved.
 

Roma's ruins

This was a major European quarter-final and Roma were set to be far from straightforward opposition for United.

The 2-1 win for the hosts at the Stadio Olimpico meant the Red Devils would have to overturn a first-leg deficit in a continental knockout tie for the first time since 1984 (excluding qualifiers). They certainly did that.

Roma actually had a greater share of possession at Old Trafford (53.7 per cent) and only attempted two shots fewer than United, but Francesco Totti squandered 10 of their 21. He at least teed up Daniele De Rossi for an exquisite consolation.

Although the Giallorossi have since also lost 7-1 to Bayern Munich in 2014 and 6-1 to Barcelona in 2015, they had not been beaten by more than four goals in Europe prior to this match.

For United, it was their biggest European win since 1968 when Waterford United were defeated by the same scoreline. It still fell some way short of their record against foreign opposition, a 10-0 1956 demolition of Anderlecht.

Ronaldo's rise

In a breakout season, this was a breakout performance from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The winger – he was definitely still a winger at that stage – had previously failed to score in his 26 appearances in Europe's premier club competition, although he impressed in Rome in the first leg.

Goals later in the second leg changed the course of Ronaldo's Champions League career, but his early work would be alien to anyone who had only seen the superstar in action for Real Madrid or Juventus in recent seasons, prowling the final third.

As so often at that time, Ronaldo's speed and skill was key in leading United's breaks from deep. He completed eight of nine attempted dribbles in this match and a pass inside from the right found Michael Carrick for the opener.

The United number seven was involved in the third goal for Wayne Rooney, too, driving United forward again, and then put Alex Ferguson's side out of sight.

More clinical than Totti with his own 10 attempts, Ronaldo raced up the right once more to drill in the fourth before half-time, breaking his Champions League duck with the first of a record 134 goals at this level and 67 in knockout matches to date.

He never looked back and the fifth goal was his, too, toeing in Ryan Giggs' low centre to reach 20 for a season for the very first time.

Ronaldo has made that mark in every subsequent campaign and there have since been a further 36 Champions League outings with two or more goals.

Smith's swansong

As Ronaldo took centre stage, there was a final flourish for a previous quarter-final scorer. Alan Smith, a star of Leeds United's 2000-01 run, was handed a rare start.

Smith's time at Old Trafford had not panned out as planned following a controversial move, his mediocre form in front of goal contributing to Ferguson's belief the England striker would be better suited to a battling midfield role.

It was there that he suffered a career-altering leg break against Liverpool in February 2006.

As Ruud van Nistelrooy left for Madrid at the end of that season, Ferguson revealed the recovering Smith was "a player we intend to convert back to centre-forward after a spell in the midfield". But the ex-Leeds favourite found himself firmly behind Rooney, Louis Saha, Henrik Larsson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the pecking order.

By the time Smith was named in the XI – in place of now United manager Solskjaer – against Roma, he had gone 507 days without a goal.

That drought ended with a beautiful right-footed finish, a reminder of what Smith once was, to put United two up, yet this was merely a last hurrah.

Although there was a first Premier League title and an FA Cup final appearance before the end of the campaign, there were no further goals and Smith then left for Newcastle United, where he failed to score once.

When the one-time £7million man finally found the net again, playing for MK Dons in League One in April 2012, 1,838 days had passed since that special Roma strike.

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