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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. AC Milan

Two European giants meet in the Europa League


Everything that you need to know ahead of Thursday’s match:

(1) Manchester United have received no favors in the Europa League this season. After a tough draw of Real Sociedad in the last round, the Reds now come up against one of the best sides left in this competition in AC Milan. With the Premier League top four race tightening (and matches coming thick and fast across all competitions), United get no breather in the Europa League.

(2) The Reds will enter this match with plenty of confidence after Sunday’s famous derby win over Manchester City. Goals from Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw — and an immense display from the defense in holding down Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring side — combined to end City’s long winning streak and extend United’s unbeaten away run to 22 games.

(3) Good news: Marcus Rashford did not suffer any ligament damage to his ankle in Sunday’s win over Manchester City. That doesn’t mean, though, that he will be able to play on Thursday. The BBC reports that Rashford has swelling and bruising around his ankle and still cannot put any weight on it, despite the scan ruling out a serious injury. Edinson Cavani, too, is a question mark for the Milan match after missing out this weekend with a knock.

(4) Expect to see a familiar face at Old Trafford on Thursday (no, not the injured Zlatan):

(5) On New Year’s Day, AC Milan led Serie A and looked like strong favorites to win the club’s nineteenth Scudetto. Less than a week later, though, Juventus snapped Milan’s 27-match unbeaten run and sent them into a bit of a tailspin. Now, Inter Milan sit atop the table and the Rossoneri are scrambling to hold off Juve and AS Roma below them. Life comes at you fast in the big leagues.

(6) A huge part of the problem is injuries. Consider: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ante Rebic, Mario Mandzukic, Ismael Bennacer, Theo Hernandez and Sandro Tonali have all been sidelined in recent weeks.

(7) On the plus side, Rebic, Hernandez, and Tonali should be back for Thursday’s match. That leaves Zlatan, Mandzukic, Calhanoglu, and Bennacer up in the air for next week’s return leg at the San Siro. For AC Milan to have any chance of knocking off Manchester United and advancing in the Europa League, they will need all hands on deck as soon as possible.

(8) Milan’s glut of attacking injuries heaps even more pressure on Rafael Leao. The 21-year-old prefers to play on the wing — where he can terrorize opposing defenses with his blazing speed — but injuries have forced him into his less-favored spot up front. Leao hasn’t scored since early January and must find a way to be more consistent in creating chances — and finishing them.

(9) Fikayo Tomori, brought in on loan from Chelsea in January, continues to win over Stefano Pioli and the Milan faithful. The young center back has hit the ground running in Serie A and, in recent weeks, has even edged out captain Alessio Romagnoli for playing time. Tomori’s combination of speed and power at the back has been so impressive that Milan are already making noises about triggering his €28 million purchase option.

(10) AC Milan took a step in the right direction with a 2-0 win at Hellas Verona on Sunday. Despite the lengthy injury list mentioned above, the Rossoneri controlled the match and kept pace with imperious Inter Milan. Goals from Rade Krunic and loanee Diogo Dalot got them back to winning ways after a disappointing draw with Udinese in midweek.

(11) Before last weekend’s win over Hellas Verona, AC Milan had only scored once from open play in their six previous matches. That hasn’t been a huge problem, though, because Milan continue to pile up penalties at a rate seldom seen in European football history. They’ve been awarded sixteen spot kicks in Serie A this season, which equals the combined total of Juventus, Inter Milan, Napoli, and Atalanta.