Manchester United are through to the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals after a 1-0 win over AC Milan in the San Siro. A late away goal by Simon Kjaer at Old Trafford meant United would have to score in the second leg, and despite a weak showing in the first half they managed to do so through Paul Pogba early in the second half. The Frenchman’s influential return from injury inspired the team to victory, and keeps United’s hopes of a trophy alive this season.
Manchester United started with intention, and might have scored in the first minute if Tomori hadn’t met a Daniel James cross before Mason Greenwood in front of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal. Greenwood had a chance to pull back a pass of his own towards Marcus Rashford just two minutes later, but sent it behind his strike partner.
United finally got a sight of goal in the 13th minute. Luke Shaw made his way forward, and set up Bruno Fernandes for a shot from the edge of the area. The goal was there for him, but he never set himself for the shot, and the ball travelled well over Donnarumma’s net. On the day that he earned a spot back in the England national team squad Shaw looked intent on building on his good form. He’s been one of United’s better paths forward in recent weeks, and looked sharp early in this match.
The breaks forward after winning possession seemed to be United’s best path towards goal on a night when they needed to score. Dan James had a good opportunity 20 minutes in to play one to Greenwood next to him, but took it himself and was stripped of possession by Tomori. Cries for a penalty were in vain, and the Welshman really should have utilized his teammate in the situation anyway.
Milan’s chances were few, and a defensive shapeheld up ok despite sloppy passing and bad giveaways in dangerous positions. United were guilty of sloppiness as well, and turned it over before the final pass too often. A bad giveaway by McTominay nearly gave Milan a goal, but Victor Lindelof slid in to the rescue before a breaking Franck Kessie could get a shot off.
It was Milan that finished the half on the front foot, and Krunic nearly scored on the stroke of halftime, but their impotency in front of goal seemed to carry over from the first leg.
Paul Pogba came on at the half for Marcus Rashford, who is likely still hurt, and made an instant impact. Despite the lack of forwards he gave United more control instantly to start the half. From the left he held up the ball and created a chance for Bruno to cross it in. After bouncing around the Milan area the ball found Pogba on the left, and he smashed it past Donnarumma from close range to give United the goal they so desperately needed to get back into the tie.
Milan failed to take advantage of quick chances to reply, and looked in need of a savior off the bench of their own. Former Manchester United no. 9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic was warming up, and looked likely to be the answer for the Rossoneri. United’s confidence going forward had grown significantly with Pogba added to the mix, and every chance they seemed like they could find a way through. Their high press was re-energized as well, and if not for a lack of forwards for selection Bruno and Pogba might have had better options ahead of them on turnovers high up the pitch.
Zlatan was introduced with 25 minutes left to play of normal time, as was United loanee Diogo Dalot. The new target man up top for Milan was likely to receive all of their forward service, but they struggled to hold the ball high up the pitch. He got his first chance in the 73rd minute, winning a header over Luke Shaw, but denied by a quick fist from Dean Henderson to punch it away from close range. United responded well to the chance however, clearing a couple of corners and establishing possession up the pitch once again.
Going into the final minutes it was United that looked well in control. Bruno and Pogba were thriving in possession, and McTominay and Fred did well to intercept any attempts by Milan to play it forward. It was a remarkable turnaround from the first half, in which United could do nothing with the ball. Pogba nearly doubled the lead with a leaping header over Dalot, but sent it over the goal. Milan forced their way forward for five minutes of stoppage time, and though they played a few dangerous passes into United’s area Dean Henderson’s commanding presence dealt with them appropriately. They saw out the 1-0 win in the San Siro, only their second win on the historic ground in any competition, and secured passage into the quarterfinals.
Earlier in the week Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played down the importance of winning a trophy in showing progress, but he no doubt wants to add some silverware to a cabinet that has been collecting dust in recent years. This was an important win in achieving that goal, and will hopefully drive the Reds this Sunday in the FA Cup against Leicester City.