Manchester United return to UEFA Europa League action at Old Trafford on Thursday evening as they welcome Italian giants AC Milan to the Theatre of Dreams for the first time in the European competition. United last faced Milan in the UEFA Champions League during the 2009/10 season in which they won 7-2 on aggregate, which was a great result back then. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be boosted by their 2-0 Manchester derby victory over Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday, which saw Bruno Fernandes score a second minute penalty and Luke Shaw score his first goal of the season in the 50th minute of the match, getting the better over Pep Guardiola’s side who has won their last 21 matches in all competitions.
United have managed 24 away matches in the Premier League undefeated, closing in on Arsenal 27 match unbeaten record which was set between April 2003 and September 2004. In all domestic competitions, United have managed 29 matches unbeaten, which is a major positive this season. United’s home form is not as impressive, but Rome was not built in a day. There is progress to be seen, unless you are one of those supporters who seem to find negativity everywhere and nothing ever pleases you. Last season, United made it to the semi-final stage of the Europa League and they will be seeking to go further this season following their exit from the Champions League back in December. You have to be in it to win it.
How United have faired against AC Milan in the European Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
United and Milan have met competitively ten times in the history of both clubs, all in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League. United have won five times with Milan winning five times, meaning there has been no draws between the two clubs. United have scored 13 goals against Milan with the Italian giants scoring 13 goals – making it level between the two clubs. The last time United faced Milan was in the round of 16 in the Champions League in the 2009/10 season; winning 3-2 at the San Siro with Ronaldinho and Clarence Seedorf scoring for Milan and Paul Scholes and a brace from Wayne Rooney winning the match. United won 4-0 (7-2 on aggregate) in the second leg with Rooney scoring a brace and Park Ji Sung and Darren Fletcher also scoring.
United also met Milan in the semi-final of the competition at Old Trafford in the 2006/07 season, winning 3-2 in Milan with Cristiano Ronaldo and a Rooney brace and Kaka scoring a brace for the Italian side. At the San Siro, United were beaten 3-0, losing 5-3 on aggregate with Kaka, Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino all scoring. United met Milan in the 2006/07 season at the round of 16 stage, losing 2-0 on aggregate (two 1-0 defeats) with Hernan Crespo scoring in each legs. In 1969, United lost 2-1 on aggregate with Sir Bobby Charlton scoring United’s only goal at the semi-final stage. In 1958, after the Munich Air Disaster, United lost 5-2 on aggregate at the semi-final stage with Ernie Taylor and Dennis Viollet scoring.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League at Old Trafford on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Dean Henderson has a great chance ahead of him at United with David De Gea effectively paternity leave following the birth od his first child. Henderson did well against Manchester City at the weekend and will be well pleased with his clean sheet against the Premier League leaders. AC Milan can be a bag of tricks and he will need to command his area and rise to the challenge, which is something that he is capable of doing. In 15 appearances in all competitions this season, Henderson has conceded nine goals and kept 10 clean sheets, which is an achievement considering the fact it is literally his first season representing United at first team level. For years now he has been loaned out, rising from through the leagues into the Premier League. He’s the future of the club.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence may need a slight tweak ahead of the visit of AC Milan. Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Brandon Williams are all one yellow card away from being suspended for the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg, which could bring some problems at the San Siro. With this in mind, Eric Bailly should replace Lindelof, giving United and Solskjaer an insurance policy should the worst happen. Maguire will need to keep his head and ensure he is not booked, otherwise United could be dealt a huge blow. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should keep their places in the team after playing well against City at the weekend. United have kept four clean sheets in a row now, which shows some ability in defence and some consistency.
Midfield: Scott McTominay, Fred
Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek are both doubts at this stage, which could change when Solskjaer speaks to the media ahead of Thursday’s clash with Milan. This leaves Nemanja Matic, Fred and Scott McTominay as the fully fit experiences midfielders. Ethan Galbraith was added to the squad in the last round, so he is expected to be on the bench if one of two players are not fit enough to be involved. With this in mind, I don’t think Matic will offer what could be needed against the Italian giants so Fred and McTominay should start. There would be nothing stopping Solskjaer bring Matic one later in the match, if defensive stability is needed, as United can use up to five substitutions in the Europa League, which gives some scope for changes.
Attacking Midfield: Amad Diallo, Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James
Marcus Rashford limped off against Manchester City on Sunday and he will be a doubt for this match, which is a shame as he would like to play against Milan. United should aim to at least keep a clean sheet, thwarting any away goals, which would steer them in the right direction. Daniel James should start. He played well against City and has been in some good form in recent weeks, which is a good sign. Bruno Fernandes must start too as he could well be the player that makes the difference on the big stage. Amad Diallo needs some time on the pitch as his two appearances thus far have seen him play just 38 minutes of football and he needs to get more experience at first team level. His pace and raw talent could be a good ingredient for United.
Forwards: Anthony Martial
Edinson Cavani is unlikely to feature against AC Milan according to Solskjaer, which is a shame as it would have been a match he could have thrived in. Marcus Rashford is also a doubt because of the injury he received against Manchester City. Anthony Martial has not been in the greatest form this season but he turned up against City on Sunday which could be him turning a corner and wanting to build on his seven goals and eight assists in all competitions this season. It may not be ideal to be missing so many players through injury at this time, but it is something that we would need to deal with as there is little that can be done. United need to play well against the Italian giants and ensure they limit the damage, keeping a clean sheet would be massive.
Substitutes: Lee Grant; Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic, Ethan Galbraith, Shola Shoretire; Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood
United can use up to five substitutes in the UEFA Europa League this season, which will allow Solskjaer to have a few more options to change the game, to sit on their lead, should that happen. Dean Henderson will be expected to start again with David de Gea away from action so Lee Grant will remain on the bench, should he be required. In defence, Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could step in should the need arise. In midfield, Donny van de Beek could be fit enough to feature on the bench and play a few minutes if need be with Nemanja Matic, Ethan Galbraith and Shola Shoretire also available. Edinson Cavani (if fit), Marcus Rashford (if fit) and Mason Greenwood could all come off the bench to change the game.
Written by John Walker