As Roma's European dreams died at the Theatre of Dreams, their coach's hopes of staying on next season did too. Work was already underway behind the scenes to sack Paulo Fonseca before the Giallorossi travelled to the north of England, but as the visitors headed into the dressing room at halftime with a 2-1 lead, it appeared that the 48-year old could still save his skin.
That solid first-half showing made La Lupa's collapse in the second stanza all the more painful, and it fits in neatly with the wider narrative of Fonseca's reign. The capital club has sprinted out of Serie A's blocks in both of the former Shakhtar strategist's seasons at the helm, only for things to fall apart in the Girone di Ritorno.
Injuries have not helped the coach's cause this term, however, and that continued to be the case at Old Trafford. Incredibly, Roma were left without windows to make substitutions after Leonardo Spinazzola was forced off in minute 37.
The Italy international joined fellow starters Jordan Veretout and Pau López on the sidelines, and the trio made its absent felt during the second half shellacking.
Roma may lack the depth of their elite European and domestic peers, but that does not excuse the tactical and mental deficiencies that doomed them against the Red Devils. The Giallorossi held onto their halftime lead for less than three minutes, with Edinson Cavani's equalizer exposing a recklessly aggressive approach.
Within seconds, a visiting attack turned into a three-versus-two situation at the other end, and United's Uruguayan hitman took full advantage. Players of such proven quality cannot be left with so much time and space to wreak havoc, especially at such a crucial stage in the tie.
That strategic slip-up is Fonseca's fault, as is a lack of mental fortitude that paralyzed his players after the hosts got their third. The Portuguese coach has had almost two years to work on that crucial defect, but the club's continued struggles against Serie A's best show that he has not made much progress.
Roma cannot currently compete with the domestic and European elite, and the Friedkins are right to look elsewhere for someone who can bring them closer to the cream of the crop. With that in mind, mooted replacement Maurizio Sarri seems like an intelligent choice.
The Tuscan also favours assertive attacking play, and that stylistic continuity should help his new charges adapt to his tactical demands. Moreover, the bespectacled boss boasts title-winning experience from his spells at Chelsea and Juventus.
Fonseca was already in the dug-out when the Friedkins took over, and they cannot be faulted for trying to make an arranged marriage work. It is still unclear whether the former Shakhtar coach will be sacked before the end of the season. At this point, it makes little difference. Lack of consistency and personality has proved to be the key to Fonseca’s flop at Roma, now the time has come to let a new chapter begin.