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In a matchup featuring two of the most decorated sides in European competition, Manchester United will host AC Milan in the first leg of their round of 16 Europa League match on Thursday.
They’ve won 10 European Cup/ Champions League titles between them though it’s been quite some time since either team has grasped a trophy.
Man United’s last trophy came in the 2016-17 Europa League, while the Rossoneri haven’t won a trophy since capturing the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.
Both sides will be without some healthy attacking options in Thursday’s opening leg.
Marcus Rashford sustained an ankle injury in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Man City. The striker will miss his first action of the season as a result.
Paul Pogba remains out through injury.
Donny van de Beek, and Edinson Cavani all missed Sunday’s match, and their status is up in the air for Thursday.
Juan Mata and Phil Jones remain on the long-term absentee list and are both out
David de Gea remains out on personal leave, meaning Dean Henderson will start in goal.
There are conflicting reports about the status of Milan’s top goalscorer and former United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The latest seems to indicate that the Swede will miss Thursday’s match at Old Trafford but should be back for the San Siro’s return leg.
However, his coach Stefano Pioli seemed to have a positive outlook on his health, suggesting he may be ready in time for Thursday.
His potential loss is by far the most significant blow to AC Milan heading into this fixture, but it’s not the teams only injury concern.
Theo Hernandez, Daniel Maldini, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ismael Bennacer, Ante Rebic, and Mario Mandzukic are doubtful.
Diogo Dalot, who’s currently on loan from Man United, is eligible to play against his former club this week.
Road to the last 16
Man United got here on a controversial technicality finishing third in their Champions’ League group. Despite coming in through the backdoor, the Reds proved they belong with an impressive 4-0 win over Real Sociedad. That first-leg victory was more than enough to see the Reds through to the last 16.
On the opposite side, the Rossoneri have earned their place in the competition’s round of 16.
Stefano Pioli’s team had to win three qualifying ties just to make the Europa League’s group stage.
Victories over Shamrock Rovers, Bodo/Glimt, and Rio Ave got them to that point of the competition.
From there, they topped their group above Lille, AC Sparta Praha and Celtic. They had four wins, a loss and a draw in the group stage.
Away goals got them through their last knockout tie against Red Star Belgrade as the Italians drew 1-1 in Northern Italy before a 2-2 draw at Rajko Mitic stadium.
It’s been over a decade since these sides have faced each other in European competition. Despite that they’ve had quite the rivalry through the years.
In ten previous competitive meetings, each team has beaten the other five times.
The first meeting came in 1958 when a decimated Man United side scored an emotional 2-1 win just over three months after the Munich air disaster.
Ultimately the emotional and physical pain of that tragedy proved too much for the Reds as Milan won the second leg 4-0, advancing to the European Cup Final.
The last time these sides met came in the 2010 Champions League round of 16. A pair of goals in both games from Wayne Rooney helped United to a 7-2 win on aggregate.
United fans savoured that win as their team has not fared well in elimination matches with Milan.
The Reds have lost four of their five knockout ties with AC Milan. No side has knocked the Red Devils out of more European competitions than Milan.
However, the Italian giants haven’t had a lot of success lately at this stage of a European competition.
Milan has been eliminated at this stage on six of the last seven occasions. Before that, they’d progressed beyond that point in nine straight European such ties from 1998-2007.
Starting to peak
Both teams will be brimming with confidence, given their form in recent weeks.
Man United may be in a distant second in the Premier League table at the moment (trailing Manchester City by 14 points), but it’s been a while since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have lost.
The Reds are currently on a 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions. That includes putting an end to City’s 28-match unbeaten run last weekend.
AC Milan is unbeaten in their last four matches in all competitions. They’ve only lost once in their previous six.
These teams aren’t only seeking to end some prolonged trophy droughts, but they’re also hoping to gain some bragging rights over their rivals.
United are second in the Premier League and may have to contend with losing out to their arch-rivals Man City for the title.
Similarly, AC Milan is trailing their arch-rivals Inter in the league table and may have to live with finishing second to them this season.
Losing the league is hard enough for these two sides but losing it to their bitter rivals is more salt in their wounds.
You have to think each team will be motivated to salvage something from this season.
AC Milan has never won this competition, yet another reason for them to be motivated for this one.
One player who loves this competition is Man United’s, Bruno Fernandes.
The Portuguese midfielder is the top scorer in this competition since last year with ten goals in his previous twelve appearances. That’s an average of 94 minutes per goal.
While not as impressive, Franck Kessie has three goals in his last four games in all competitions for the Northern Italians.
United loanee Diogo Dalot meanwhile got just his second goal with Milan this season in their last match against Verona.
Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said last weekend’s victory over Man City is a huge confidence boost heading into a tough Europa League match.
“So, it gives us confidence knowing that we can beat anyone. We’ve felt like that for around a year now. We felt that we’re capable of putting in top performances and how many times have we reached that level? That’s what we need to start looking at, and that’s down to us as players. With the levels that we can reach, we know we can get there.”
Thursday’s match from Old Trafford begins at 5:55 pm. (JSL).