Two European giants clash as AC Milan face Manchester United in the Europa League Round of 16.
The Rossoneri and Red Devils are edging closer to their former glories in what has been a great first-half of the season for both clubs. United are 2nd in the Premier League behind their city rivals and are in pursuit of winning their second Europa League trophy in five seasons. Milan similarly sit 2nd in the Serie A table behind Inter in what has been an over-achieving season for them. This will arguably be Milan’s biggest European match since 2014 when they lost to Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16. Since then, they have only featured in the Europa in 2018, where they lost to Arsenal in the Round of 16. Milan fans have been waiting for an encounter of this magnitude for years, but unfortunately, the Rossoneri will travel to Old Trafford without a handful of first-team players.
Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ante Rebic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Mario Mandzukic will not be available for the match. Milan has been one of the top-performing teams in Europe post-COVID lockdown, and it will be a real shame that they will not be at full strength in what will be their biggest match of the season. Donnarumma will start in net, with Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Fikayo Tomori, and Diogo Dalot forming the backline. Captain Alessio Romagnoli is a doubt, after suffering an injury during training. Kessie and Meite will make up the midfield pairing and Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, and Rade Krunic should form the attacking trio behind striker Rafael Leao.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Dalot; Meite, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Castillejo; Leao
United are now unbeaten for 17 consecutive games after their 2-0 win over their cross-city rivals. They defeated Real Sociedad 4-0 on aggregate to reach the Round of 16 and will look to take advantage of Milan’s injury situation when they play the 1st leg. United will see the likes of Cavani, Rashford, Pogba, and De Gea unavailable but fortunately for them, it’s the visitors who look much weaker on paper. Dean Henderson will start in goal with David De Gea still in Spain following the birth of his child. Luke Shaw will be given a rest after his phenomenal performance in the derby, giving Alex Telles a chance to impress. Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, and Telles will make up the backline. and Fred, McTominay, and Bruno Fernandes will form the midfield triangle. Mason Greenwood and Daniel James will start on the wings as Anthony Martial will start on top.
Probable Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles; Fred, McTominay; Greenwood, Fernandes, James; Martial
Milan have been unlucky with both their Round of 16 draw and recent injuries, but this game will be a chance to show the world how much they have progressed in the last year. They struggled against Red Star Belgrade, but fortunately away goals would put them on top. On the other hand, United look to be a real threat, having ended Manchester City’s 21-match winning streak recently. Manchester will certainly look to take advantage of Milan’s depleted squad and with their current form, it seems likely.
AC Milan form (all competitions): D L D W D W
Manchester United form (all competitions): W W D D D W
Coach Pioli should be prepared for havoc if he does not get his tactics right. On top of their recent offensive struggles, Milan’s front four of Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Rade Krunic, and Rafael Leao does not pose much of a threat to a side that kept Manchester City goalless. United remain the clear favourites for this encounter. Milan’s open play has struggled to produce goals in the last month, which means they will need to take advantage of any set-piece opportunities that come their way. If they want any chance at making it to the quarters, they will need to be clinical with their finishing and leave Manchester with one or more away goals. Expect a low-scoring affair and a likely United victory.
Prediction: Manchester United 2 – 0 AC Milan