Roma defender Chris Smalling can’t imagine a game more important than his return to Manchester United for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, although he said playing behind closed doors was disappointing.
Smalling, who only returned from a knee injury against Cagliari last week, made more than 300 appearances for United in nearly a decade before joining Roma on loan in 2019 – a deal that has become permanent the next year.
A two-time Premier League winner with United, Smalling will line up against his former team-mates in the first leg of the fourth matchup at Old Trafford.
“It’s a special game, it’s a semi-final, plus he’s playing against United,” former England international Smalling told reporters.
“Obviously, having been in Rome for almost two years, I know how important it is to bring home a trophy because it’s been far too long.
“There are so many ingredients that I don’t think there will be a bigger game to play in. I’m just thankful that I’m in good shape now and that I can contribute because the whole team needs every player.
Smalling’s reunion at Old Trafford will be played without fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I admit it’s a bummer not to have a full house and just as my friends and family are watching two clubs that have been a big part of my career,” Smalling said.
“It’s an unfortunate thing, but it doesn’t take away the emotional side because it’s very rare when you step on a pitch and know all the players on the pitch.
“In such a big game too, I think he has all the ingredients to give one of your best performances.”
Smalling: “I think there are very few clubs in the world that have a fan base capable of this [send-off], so we know the importance of tomorrow and bringing a positive result back to Rome, so we have something to do in the second leg. “
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Smalling United’s exit came at the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure as he moved to the Italian capital on loan two years ago.
Smalling, 31, said he had nothing against the Norwegian manager about his departure.
“When [Solskjaer] I was injured for the first time, but when I got fit he played me and we had a great relationship, ”added Smalling.
“We’ve had some very honest conversations this summer, but now we’ll meet on the pitch and I can’t wait to be there.”
Smalling missed six weeks due to the knee injury from which he only returned on Sunday against Cagliari.
“Personally, I feel good,” he said. “It’s no secret that I’ve missed a lot of games this season, which is very unusual for me.
“But coming into this game, I feel in good shape. I feel ready to contribute.
Roma will seek their first European away victory against England since February 2001 (1-0 against Liverpool in the UEFA Cup), having won none of their last 12 matches against seven different English teams (D4 L8 ).
Meanwhile, Roma have lost their previous three away games to United, conceding nine goals and scoring only once in return. It will be their first such trip since April 2008, when they lost 1-0 in the Champions League quarter-finals.