A high-octane clash will be upon us when Manchester United take on AC Milan at Old Trafford for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first leg on Thursday.
The UEFA Europa League resumes this midweek, with the Round of 16 kicking off. Each of the eight matches will be on show on Thursday, with Manchester United taking to the field first up, as they play hosts to AC Milan at Old Trafford.
Manchester United reached the Europa League knockout stages after finishing third in their UEFA Champions League group. In the Round of 16, the Red Devils were fairly comfortable, as they beat Real Sociedad 4-0 on aggregate. And, heading into the midweek European fixture, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & co. will be buoyed after beating Manchester City 2-0 in the Premier League last week.
AC Milan, on the other hand, have been a part of the Europa League from the group stages, where they finished atop Group H to reach the Round of 32. In the previous stage, the Rossoneri had to depend on away goals to progress, with the tie against Crvena Zvezda ending 3-3 on aggregate. Like their hosts, Milan, too, returned to winning ways this past weekend with a 2-0 success against Hellas Verona.
Manchester United were 4-0 victors the last time they locked horns with AC Milan, with the game being played in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a fresh injury concern hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of AC Milan. On Thursday, the Manchester United manager will be bereft of the services of as many as seven first-team players due to injuries and other reasons.
Marcus Rashford is the latest player to be sidelined after sustaining a knock against Manchester City. Apart from Rashford, the likes of Phil Jones, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani are all out injured as well, with David de Gea unavailable due to personal reasons.
In the continued absence of de Gea, Dean Henderson’s extended run in the side will continue, with the Englishman making an impression in the last couple of games. Up ahead in midfield, Eric Bailly ought to come in for Victor Lindelof for yet another midweek fixture, with Harry Maguire starting along with him at the heart of the Manchester United defence.
Meanwhile, Luke Shaw is due a breather and will likely make way for Alex Telles, who will have a big opportunity to impress, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a certainty at right-back. Up ahead in midfield, Nemanja Matic ought to be recalled, with Scott McTominay once again making way in the double pivot, which will feature Fred.
Finally, in attack, Bruno Fernandes is unlikely to get a rest, owing to the absence of van de Beek and Pogba. However, with Rashford and Cavani unavailable, Mason Greenwood, Daniel James and Anthony Martial will complete the Manchester United attack, with very little scope for rotation.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Telles; Fred, Matic; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, James; Martial
Like his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Stefano Pioli has a number of pressing issues to contend with ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. On Thursday, the AC Milan manager will have to make do without as many as seven first-team players.
The major absentees for AC Milan are Theo Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and former Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In addition, the likes of Ismael Bennacer, Daniel Maldini, Ante Rebic and Mario Mandzukic all miss out on the travelling squad as well for the Rossoneri on Thursday.
So, much like Manchester United, AC Milan will have very little scope for rotations, although in defence, one change is expected. Simon Kjaer ought to come in as Alessio Romagnoli’s central defensive partner, after having been rested on the weekend. Fikayo Tomori, therefore, drops down to the bench.
Davide Calabria and Manchester United loanee Diogo Dalot, who is available to feature against his parent club, pick themselves as the two full-backs, with Gianluigi Donnarumma set to take his place between the sticks. Up ahead in midfield, Sandro Tonali is set to return, pairing up with Franck Kessie in the double pivot.
Like Tonali, Brahim Diaz was preserved for the Europa League tie as well and the Real Madrid loanee will feature as the no. 10, with Alexis Saelemaekers and Samu Castillejo certainties out wide as the two wingers. Finally, Rafael Leao will spearhead the AC Milan attack against Manchester United.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Dalot; Tonali, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Castillejo; Leao
- Thursday’s encounter will be the 11th meeting between Manchester United and AC Milan in European competition, with each of the 10 previous games coming in the European Cup/Champions League. Both teams have five wins apiece in those meetings.
- In their last meeting in March 2010, Manchester United won 4-0 against AC Milan – it is the Italians’ joint-heaviest defeat in major UEFA European competition (excluding Super Cups).
- Manchester United have been eliminated from four of their five knockout ties with AC Milan, with no side eliminating the Red Devils more often in UEFA European competition (also Real Madrid, 4, excluding Super Cups).
- When reaching the Round of 16 of a major European competition, AC Milan have been ousted on six of the last seven occasions, this after progressing from nine consecutive such ties from 1988 to 2007. Their only progression over this period was against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League in 2011/12.
- Despite playing in six UEFA Champions League group stage matches this season, Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes is the top scorer in the UEFA Europa League since the start of last season, with 10 goals in 12 appearances at an average of 94 minutes per goal.
Player to Watch
When Alex Telles arrived at Manchester United, it was envisioned that the Brazilian would nail down a spot as the first-choice left-back at the expense of Luke Shaw, whose inconsistencies had forced the Red Devils into the market for a competitor for the Englishman. As fate would have it, Shaw has since been one of the best players this term for United, with Telles being a squad option.
Shaw was impressive yet again the win in the Manchester Derby and that means, Telles once again faces an uphill task in his bid to make an impression on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In what is another important fixture for him, the Brazilian will need to step up if he is to remain a factor in Solskjaer’s mind heading into the crunch period of the season. Will he deliver the goods?
Manchester United 2-0 AC Milan
Manchester United will be riding a wave of confidence following the big win on the weekend, with Bruno Fernandes, in particular, expected to now run riot this week. AC Milan, on the other hand, won their game as well, but could struggle in the absence of key players, especially in attack. Expect Manchester United to do a solid job defensively, building the base for a 2-0 win on Thursday.