Džeko leads Roma against old rival United in Europa League

ROME — Edin Džeko has been linked with so many different destinations and involved in so much controversy this season that it’s been hard to keep track.

In September, he was so close to joining Juventus that he momentarily stopped playing for Roma. In January, there was a supposed swap deal set up with Inter Milan for Alexis Sánchez.

Then came a falling out with coach Paulo Fonseca that resulted in him being stripped of Roma’s captaincy.

But Džeko never left the Italian capital, and now he’s going back to his former home city in England to lead the Giallorossi against Manchester United in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals on Thursday.

“There have been a lot of highs and lows this season. I had some tough times personally due to a lot of things but I don’t like to look back. What happened happened,” Džeko said recently. “We need to look forward. We’re in the semifinals, which a lot of people didn’t expect. We’ve got to enjoy ourselves, because it’s not every week that you get to play at Old Trafford.”

Džeko, though, knows what it means to visit United as an opponent. He did it for five seasons with Manchester City before joining Roma in 2015 — and scored six goals in the Manchester derby.

“Since I left Manchester City six years ago, I’ve never been back,” Džeko told UEFA.com. “It will be a special game for me, since it was a derby for me until a few years ago.”

Two other Roma players, defender Chris Smalling and midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, previously played for United.

Smalling joined Roma on loan in 2019 after nine years with Manchester United. He made the move permanent last year after a strong first season at Roma but has struggled with injuries this campaign.

Smalling and his family were also recently the target of an armed robbery inside their home in Rome, after which he said they were “very shaken up.”

While Smalling missed the quarterfinals against Ajax, he’s expected to take over in defense for the suspended Gianluca Mancini in the first leg in Manchester.

Smalling and the rest of Roma’s defenders will have the task of containing high-scoring United forwards Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford.

As for Mkhitaryan, who like Smalling played on the United team that won the Europa League in 2017, he also is working his way back into form following injury.

For Roma fans, the game presents a chance for revenge following a 7-1 rout by United at Old Trafford in the 2006-07 Champions League — a game that current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played in.

With that game in mind, Giallorossi supporters have seized on recent comments from Solskjaer, who reportedly said that he “doesn’t know Roma well” and hadn’t seen them play.

Roma fans responded by pasting posters of Solskjaer around their city accompanied by a message: “Make it so he remembers us!”

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf