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The long-awaited return of Paul Pogba was precisely what the Reds needed as Manchester United advanced to the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over AC Milan.
The Frenchman, who’d been out with an injury since February 6, made an immediate impact as a substitute taking over for Marcus Rashford in the second half and scoring just minutes from the restart.
With United needing a goal to advance, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side began attacking early.
In the 13th minute, Luke Shaw broke down the left past a pair of challenges teeing up Bruno Fernandes on the edge of the box.
The midfielder’s strike, however, went well over the bar.
That chance seemed to spark Milan as they were much more attack-minded for the rest of the half.
An excellent combination between Theo Hernandez, Rade Krunic and Franck Kessie created a superb opportunity for the Rossoneri in the 41st minute.
The three teed up Alexis Saelemaekers, but Henderson was able to read the curling effort well and pushed it past the right post.
Near the end of the half, Saelemaekers burst down the right directing a cross towards Krunic.
Victor Lindelof put enough pressure on the Belgian as his effort went wide.
With United reeling and in need of a spark, Solskjaer inserted Paul Pogba in place of Marcus Rashford to start the second half.
Two minutes into the half, and the Reds midfielder made a decisive impact.
Milan was unable to clear their lines after a stunning strike from Daniel James caused some frantic play in their box.
Fred did well to take the ball, keep his composure, to find Pogba, who lifted a shot past Gianluigi Donnarumma from a tight angle.
Lindelof had to be alert at the back with 21 minutes to play as Milan were pushing for the equaliser.
Kessie sent Hakan Calhanoglu down the right flank before cutting it back to the Ivorian into the box.
Lindelof, though, was able to intervene and block the near post effort.
In the 74th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a great chance to score against his former side.
A deep cross from Calhanoglu at the back post was headed towards goal by the Swede, but Henderson got his hand to it, and Luke Shaw cleared the rebound.
That’s as close as Milan would come as the Reds hung on advancing to the last eight of this competition.
Man of the Match
Fred was instrumental in midfield for the Reds in this game.
Pogba will get the headlines, but Fred did a masterful job in this one.
The Brazilian brought his side to life after a lacklustre first half.
He owned both Kessie and Soualiho Meita in the middle of the pitch.
He won numerous balls in midfield and had extremely precise passing.
Turning the tide
After some early heartache against the Rossoneri, things appear to be going United’s way in this bitter European rivalry.
United hadn’t beaten Milan, let alone scored a goal against them in their first four games at the San Siro, with Milan outscoring them 10-0 in that span.
The Reds, though, have won the last two in Milan and have progressed from each of their previous two knockout ties against the Italians.
Keeping them Alive
Dean Henderson generated a lot of criticism for conceding the equaliser in the opening leg at Old Trafford, but tonight the English keeper showed his worth and resiliency.
It’s his 11th clean sheet in just 18 appearances this season in all competitions.
That’s one more than David de Gea has registered in 29 games this season.
Milan is known for its fashion, so perhaps it’s only fitting that a stylish player like Pogba got the decisive break.
Pogba has scored in each of his last two away games against Milan, with his previous one coming with Juventus in 2016.
This was only his second-ever goal as a substitute with United.
The British are coming
What used to be an intimidating place to play for opponents has turned into a nightmare for the Rossoneri, especially against English sides.
Milan has now lost five of their last six games at the San Siro against English teams in European competition.
Following the match, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the presence of Pogba in midfield had been sorely missing.
“We’ve overcome some difficulties definitely. We’ve missed Paul, he’s been out for almost two months. He was just getting into his best form, and he’s very important for us. He’s going to give us a big boost for the rest of the season, and today he made a big difference for us.”
Joining United in the quarter-finals are Granada, AS Roma, Dinamo Zagreb, Arsenal, Slavia Prague, Villareal and Ajax.
The draw takes place tomorrow at noon GMT.
The Reds attention turns to the FA Cup, where they battle Leicester City Sunday in the quarter-final.
The kickoff from King Power Stadium is at 5 pm. (JSL).