Everything that you need to know ahead of Thursday’s match:
(1) Simon Kjaer’s late goal in the first leg means that Manchester United must score on Thursday to have any hope of advancing in the Europa League. AC Milan got their away goal and hold a slim advantage ahead of the return leg. Thankfully, United escaped an even bigger hole when VAR ruled out Franck Kessie’s first-half screamer for handball.
6 - When failing to win the first leg at home, Manchester United have been eliminated from six of their last eight ties in European competition, most recently against Barcelona in the 2018-19 Champions League. Setback. pic.twitter.com/ujuSxouhne— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 11, 2021
(2) Manchester United defeated West Ham 1-0 on Sunday to significantly boost their prospects of finishing in the top four. While the Hammers had every chance of leaving Old Trafford with at least one point, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s shorthanded Reds ground out an important win and held their opponents without a shot on goal.
(3) The whole injury situation looks a heck of a lot better this week. With Marcus Rashford making a surprise return over the weekend, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek, and David De Gea could all join him for this week’s trip to Milan. That’s a huge boost to Manchester United’s chances.
(4) Manchester United head to the San Siro on a fine run of form:
(5) AC Milan lost 1-0 to Napoli on Sunday in a result that probably killed off their title hopes in Serie A. The Rossoneri now sit nine points behind red-hot Inter Milan and would be wise to turn their focus towards hanging onto a Champions League spot. Ante Rebic returned from a hip injury, only to be sent off in second-half stoppage time for arguing a foul call.
(6) He’s back: Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to training this week and will be available for selection on Thursday night after missing the first leg with a thigh injury. The 39-year-old forward has scored sixteen goals in all competitions this season and will surely relish the chance to suit up against one of his former clubs.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be available against Manchester United on Thursday after completing a full training session today pic.twitter.com/K9jurcVWVw— Goal (@goal) March 16, 2021
(7) Zlatan won’t be the only injured AC Milan star ready to return. Theo Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu, who both missed the first leg last week, played against Napoli on Sunday and came through the match without any further problems. Club captain Alessio Romagnoli and Ismael Bennacer weren’t quite ready, but should be in contention for Thursday. Both sides should be pretty close to full strength for this one.
(8) One likely absentee is Rafael Leao. The 21-year-old came off during AC Milan’s loss to Napoli with a thigh injury and, although it’s not believed to be serious, it could keep him out of Thursday’s match. Leao probably wasn't in line to start anyway, with Zlatan back and Ante Rebic suspended domestically (but available in the Europa League). Odds are that Stefano Pioli will rest Leao on Thursday and bring him back into the lineup at the weekend in place of the suspended Rebic.
(9) The Athletic UK’s Liam Twomey, who covers Chelsea, on Fikayo Tomori’s tremendous growth on loan at AC Milan:
I didn't know he could split the defensive pair that led Milan to the top of Serie A. Kjaer’s injury allowed him to have an immediate chance, but the fact that he is now playing from the start in place of Romagnoli — the captain of the club — is very surprising. He has always had the talent to play at a high level in every major European league, so it’s not surprising in that respect.
(10) Thursday is Diogo Dalot’s 22nd birthday — and he hopes to mark the occasion by knocking his parent club out of the Europa League. “The perfect birthday gift would be to win and go through,” he says. “It would be the best gift to receive.” Dalot, though, struggled mightily in Milan’s loss at the weekend and could find himself blowing out his candles from the bench.
(11) Stefano Pioli on the rigors of competing in the Europa League:
The Europa League is more tiring than the Champions [League]. We returned at 3 in the morning on Friday. We wanted this path, I don’t give excuses, but it is clear that it weighs. We started in September, but what matters is the character. [Napoli] is a defeat that hurts us, we are second in the standings and we would like to stay there even if it is not our initial goal. We try to recover energy and some players because Manchester are a very strong team.