United v AC Milan: The big match preview
Two of the biggest names in European football meet once more on Thursday evening, as Manchester United host AC Milan in the Europa League round-of-16 first leg.
While the Reds and the Rossoneri boast 10 European Cup/Champions Leagues between us and would much prefer this to be in the latter, both sides are enjoying positive seasons and showing signs of progress as we sit second in our respective leagues, while also challenging for silverware on the continent.
As if this game didn’t need enough build-up, there’s also the added narrative of the potential return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Theatre of Dreams, while on-loan defender Diogo Dalot is permitted to play against his parent club.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the much-anticipated meeting…
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Get to know Milan collection
United Review gives the lowdown on the Rossoneri’s boss, plus four key players.
HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE GAME?
The match kicks off at 17:55 GMT and it will be broadcast live in the UK on BT Sport. You can follow all the action on ManUtd.com and in our Official App, where you can also track in-game data using our Match Centre. MUTV will also provide build-up from 16:50 GMT, live radio commentary and post-match reaction, as well as showing full reruns of the game the following day.
There are several injury doubts in the United camp, with Marcus Rashford having limped off early during Sunday's Manchester derby. Edinson Cavani missed that match after aggravating an injury in training, while Donny van de Beek hasn’t feature in any of United’s last five matches. Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Phil Jones are expected to miss out, while David De Gea is still in Spain, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will provide a more detailed update in his Wednesday press conference.
It remains to be seen whether Ibrahimovic will be fit to face his former side. The 39-year-old picked up an adductor injury during last weekend’s win over Roma, but has made great strides in his recovery, according to coach Stefano Pioli. Even if the great Swede does make it, the Milanese have other fitness issues. The Rossoneri were without a further six first-teamers for their most recent Serie A match with Hellas Verona, as Theo Hernandez was added to an injury list which also includes Hakan Calhanoglu, Ismael Bennacer, Mario Mandzukic, Ante Rebic and Daniel Maldini.
STORY SO FAR
United, of course, were originally in the Champions League, before dropping into this competition in December. We made it through the round of 32 by defeating Real Sociedad 4-0 on aggregate to set up this tie, but what about Milan?
The Italians had to win three qualifying ties, against Shamrock Rovers, Bodo/Glimt and Rio Ave, to make it to the Europa League group stage, where they came top of a pool containing Lille, Sparta Prague and Celtic after winning four, drawing one and losing one of their six matches. They had to rely on the away goals rule to make it past Red Star Belgrade in the last round, drawing 1-1 in northern Italy after a 2-2 result at the Rajko Mitic Stadium. Both sides recorded 2-0 away wins at the weekend, with the Reds beating Manchester City in the derby and Milan getting past Verona, thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Dalot.
United have previously played Milan 10 times in competitive fixtures, across five separate two-legged ties. Although we have only progressed from one of those knockout affairs – the last, in the equivalent stage of the Champions League in 2010 – we’ve won the same amount of games (five) as the Italians, with four of these coming at home.
The Rossoneri’s most recent visit to M16 came 11 years ago, when the aforementioned round-of-16 tie was finely poised, after United’s 3-2 win at the San Siro. But, on David Beckham’s return to his boyhood club, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men blew Milan away, with Wayne Rooney scoring a brace in the midst of an otherworldly patch of form in front of goal. Ji-sung Park and Darren Fletcher also found the back of the net, to secure a 7-2 aggregate success against a star-studded XI including the likes of Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo.
WHO’S THE MANAGER?
Pioli has been in charge of the 18-time Italian champions since October 2019, when previous incumbent Marco Giampaolo left after a disappointing start to the season. A former top-flight player and an experienced coach, Pioli – who is nicknamed Lo Stabilizzatore (‘The Stabiliser’) – has managed Milan’s rivals Internazionale, as well as Lazio and Fiorentina, and there have been solid signs of progress at the San Siro since he took over.
Helped by the addition of Ibrahimovic in last year’s winter window, the Rossoneri finished the Serie A season strongly, winning nine and drawing three after lockdown and eventually coming sixth. Pioli was rewarded with a contract extension and Milan picked up where they left off after the summer, extending their long unbeaten run to top Serie A going into Christmas. Despite losing four of their first nine games after the new year, they have recovered well recently and are still in the hunt for a first Scudetto in a decade, sitting six points behind Antonio Conte’s Inter.
ONES TO WATCH
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has already made 250 senior appearances for club and country, despite only turning 22 recently. The vice-captain made his debut for the Milan at 16, becoming the second-youngest keeper in Italian top-flight history and has been a fixture in the side ever since. He’s helped at the back by captain Alessio Romagnoli, who has been compared to Alessandro Nesta. Going forward, Ibrahimovic – if he plays – is the obvious dangerman, but Rebic is a more-than-capable deputy, having helped Croatia to the World Cup final in 2018 and scoring 17 in 53 games for the Serie A outfit.
WHO ARE THE OFFICIALS?
Referee: Slavko Vincic (SVN)
Assistants: Tomaz Klancnik, Andraz Kovacic (SVN)
Fourth official: Matej Jug (SVN)
VAR: Bastian Dankert (GER)
Assistant VAR: Jure Praprotnik (SVN)
There are seven other Europa League last-16, first-leg ties taking place on Thursday:
Ajax v Young Boys (17:55 GMT)
Dynamo Kiev v Villarreal (17:55 GMT)
UNITED v AC Milan (17:55 GMT)
Slavia Prague v Rangers (17:55 GMT)
Granada v Molde (20:00 GMT)
Olympiacos v Arsenal (20:00 GMT)
Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk (20:00 GMT)
Tottenham Hotspur v Dinamo Zagreb (20:00 GMT)