Manchester United will travel to Italy to face AC Milan at the San Siro in the round of 16 second leg of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening. It was a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford last week which saw 18-year-old Amad Diallo score his first goal for the club five minutes after replacing the injured Anthony Martial. Unfortunately for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, Simon Kjaer equalised in the penultimate minute of added time with goalkeeper Dean Henderson punching the ball into the top of his own net, which must have been devastating for him. To overcome that, Henderson kept a clean sheet against West Ham United on Sunday.
With United conceding an away goal, it will be in their hands to outscore the Italian giants on Thursday with the side having the advantage at this moment in time. If United score at least twice, it will add pressure to the hosts and United will be in the driving seat, as long as they can minimise Milan’s attacking threat, which was the case at Old Trafford last week. Milan lost 1-0 to Napoli this weekend so they will be seeking to return to winning ways and restore faith by knocking United out of the competition but Solskjaer’s side will be seeking to be in Friday’s draw for the quarter-final stage of the competition in his quest for his first trophy as United manager.
How United have faired against AC Milan in European competition.
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 the San Siro on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has not featured for United since the 0-0 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the end of February. He has been in Spain after the birth of his daughter. He returned to Manchester last week and should be ready for feature for his club once again, in a match that they may need his heroics so United prevail and reach the quarter-final stages of the competition. De Gea has not been in the greatest form this season but he has shown glimpses of the De Gea that kept United in good order following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. This could be a good match for the Spanish goalkeeper to return to, knowing that he will need to be at his best.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence are into a period whereby they are seen as strong, having kept five clean sheets in their past six matches in all competitions. Against Milan, United will need to be much stronger and play the game to their advantage. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should keep their places in the fullback roles with Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire partnering each other in the centre of defence. Maguire and Lindelof are a yellow card away from a suspension, which would keep him out of the quarter-final first leg, if United get through. Brandon Williams is also in the same position, a booking away from suspension. United must get the job done.
Midfield: Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay
It is green news that Paul Pogba is back in training and even better that he could be back in the team on Thursday evening. He will be exciting to ge back on the pitch and get United heading in the right direction once again, but expecting him to light up the pitch, after many weeks out of action will be a big ask. He will relish facing Milan again, a team he faced many times whilst playing for Juventus. Scott McTominay should start alongside him as he can provide a lot of energy and cover defensively, although this is not his strength. United will need to get the ball forward to get the result they need. McTominay is a booking away from suspension.
Attacking Midfield: Daniel James, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
There are 46 goals and 26 assists in inn this position alone if Daniel James (five goals and one assist), Bruno Fernandes (23 goals and 14 assists) and Marcus Rashford (18 goals and 11 assists) all start. This is the majority of the goals that have been scored by United this season and also demonstrates the best three-pronged attacking midfield at the club. If Solskjaer wants to see United head into the quarter-finals of the competition, starting all these three players will be needed. Granted, there won’t be many quality options from the bench if all these players start, so the players will need to achieve whilst they are on the pitch.
Forwards: Mason Greenwood
Edinson Cavani was originally drafted in to start after he had come through from injury in the last few days. He was initially named in the squad to travel to Milan today but after the final training session, he was ruled out and will remain in Manchester. With Anthony Martial also missing out, that leaves just Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to lead the line. In this instance, with Rashford playing on the left-wing, Greenwood should lead the line against Milan, which will be a big occasion for the player and a chance for hims to play in his favoured role at the club. United still have a competitive squad and will be boosted with others returning.
Substitutes: Lee Grant, Dean Henderson; Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Fred, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek
Solskjaer will need to get his substitutes right for this match as it is the biggest match United will face this season. A place in the quarter-final of the UEFA Europa League is up for grabs and United will want to be in Friday’s draw for the quarter-final and semi-final stages of the competition. I would expect both Lee Grant and Dean Henderson to be on the bench and in defence, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe. In midfield, Fred, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek and would provide many different options. Eric Bailly, Shola Shoretire and Anthony Martial will not travel to Italy.
Written by John Walker