Manchester United gave away their lead late to draw 1-1 with AC Milan in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 tie. United will be frustrated to have not led by more in the final minutes, but are perhaps lucky that they weren’t pursuing an equalizer themselves in the closing minutes.
United were without Marcus Rashford, who picked up an injury in the 2-0 win against Manchester City on Sunday, and lined up with Mason Greenwood on the right and Daniel James on the left with Anthony Martial through the middle.
The physicality of Milan’s midfield was apparent, but the threat of speed from Milan’s front 3 showed up early as well. Rafael Leao pounced on a long ball and slotted it past Henderson in the 5th minute, but replay showed that Maguire was right in his belief that the Portuguese forward was well offside. United responded with a cheeky effort from Martial, who controlled an Alex Telles cross off the bounce at the edge of the area and volleyed it at Donnarumma, who was forced to push it over the bar for a corner.
Franck Kessie seemingly put the visitors ahead after 10 minutes, an early and potentially crucial away goal. He was given plenty of space to shoot by Scott McTominay, and let fly on a half-volley that shot past a helpless Henderson. However, VAR came to the rescue with a handball ruling, giving United a free kick. Huge let off for United.
The Reds struggled to get the ball forward after Milan’s early chances. An ambitious long-range free kick from Alex Telles bounce on top of the net on it’s way out, though perhaps he mis-hit a cross. the McMatic midfield struggled to assert control in the center of the park early, and United were forced wide to advance the ball.
Milan continued to create, and a better shot from Krunic might have put them ahead in the 25th minute. United appeared lucky to be at 0-0 regardless of the VAR ruling on Kessie. Saelemaekers had a chance of his own on the break a few minutes later, but again the shot was lacking and Henderson handled it well. United, unable to get anything down the middle, started a counter attack wide through Daniel James, whose cross towards Martial was just met by Donnarumma. The outstretched keeper’s rebound bounced into a dangerous area, but Milan were the first to reach it. With half an hour played it was only United’s second meaningful chance.
With a bit more possession in Milan’s half to close out the first half of play United won a free kick. Telles’ chance bounced off the wall, and Donnarumma pushed it away easily. On a corner from ensuing play Harry Maguire nearly converted at the back post, but instead the ball bounced off his leg and onto the post, from which it somehow bounced up and over the goal and out of play for a goal kick.
The first half looked to be equally disappointing, but an audacious chip through to Amad Diallo, who came on for Martial at the half, and the young forward cleverly turned and headed backwords past Donnarumma to give United the 1-0 lead.
The goal energized United, at least for the moment, but the path to goal remained fairly difficult. Milan respondedf with a couple set piece opportunities, one of which was nearly converted by Kessie. Krunic nearly scored as well, heading a good chance well off target, and Saelemaekers hit yet another disappointing shot right at Henderson. A strong response to going down, but not enough to bring the game level.
The bad finishing was evident at the other end as well, with Daniel James missing an open goal at the back post after a nice move by Mason Greenwood to find space and lay a great pass across goal. A great opportunity to make it 2-0. Solskjaer decided to bring on Brandon Williams and Fred for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes respectively. Luke Shaw came on as well for Daniel James. The moves didn’t appear to make the team much stronger, but gives a bit of rest for players that will be needed against West Ham at the weekend.
The changes certainly made possession more difficult, and the absence of Bruno Fernandes all but guaranteed a lack of chances in the closing minutes. Milan struggled to make chances of their own, but United’s error proneness was exacerbated by the removal of two of their best players on the pitch. In the second minute of stoppage time Milan won a penalty, and Simon Kjaer converted it to equalize with a huge away goal for the Rossoneri.
United now go to the San Siro needing to score because of their continued set piece defensive woes. They could have Rashford back for that one, but Milan are likely to have their important starters back as well, including former United no. 9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic.