Substitute Paul Pogba marked his return from injury with the only goal as Manchester United beat Milan 1-0 at San Siro to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
Pogba had missed United’s previous 10 games with a thigh problem suffered in the 3-3 home draw with Everton in early February, but it was not long before it had an impact on the return leg proceedings.
After replacing Marcus Rashford at the break, the France international cleverly shot a loose ball in the 48th minute to secure his side a 2-1 overall triumph.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – returning from an injury himself in time to come off the bench – was unable to help Milan manage a response after his introduction, meaning the Serie A side weren’t able to help has now failed to win five in a row at home.
United had triumphed 4-0 on Italian soil in the previous round, albeit against Spanish opposition to Real Sociedad as their tie was transferred to Turin due to travel restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic .
They also started off brilliantly at Milan, but it was the hosts who created the chances towards the end of the first half. Alexis Saelemaekers tested Dean Henderson from a distance, while Rade Krunic flew wide under pressure just before half-time.
The hosts – as they had done at Old Trafford – took control for long periods of time.
However, Pogba punished Milan after failing to clear Daniel James’ deflected shot, using a feint to create space to lift the ball over goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma at a tight angle.
Henderson came to United’s rescue to deny Ibrahimovic, and Pogba almost doubled his and the visitors’ count, bucking a header on the roof of the net. In the end, however, one goal was enough.
What does it mean?
The collapse of Milan continues; Stefano Pioli’s side have now won just twice in their last 10 outings, in which they have come out of two cup competitions and lost pace in the Serie A title race.
On the other hand, United are now 14 undefeated in all competitions. Catching Manchester City’s neighbors in the Premier League is nearly impossible, so Europe – along with the FA Cup – offers a huge opportunity for Solskjaer to claim silverware, further strengthening his position amid continuous improvement.
A plain front at the back
Pogba is making headlines after qualifying for the eighth draw, which takes place on Friday, but United’s defensive line also deserves high praise.
Victor Lindelof, who produced two crucial blocks to keep the hosts at bay, and his center-back partner Harry Maguire were excellent. The pair finished with five clearances apiece, as well as five interceptions.
The rash does not make a mark
Rashford had played down concerns about burnout ahead of the game, although he missed the initial meeting with Milan with a minor injury. He also treated a shoulder problem.
However, the England international had just 16 touches in the first half – the lowest total for any United field player – before being replaced by Pogba, who had a much bigger impact. .
Opta key facts
– United have progressed in each of their last two knockout matches with Milan in European competition, having been eliminated in each of the four matches previously (European Cup in 1957-58 and 1968-69, Champions League in 2004- 05 and 2006-07).
– United have lost just one of their last 20 Europa League knockout matches (W12 D7), a 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the 2019-20 semi-final.
– Milan have lost five of their last six home matches against English sides in European competition (W1), having gone undefeated in each of their first 13 such matches (W8 D5).
– Henderson has kept 11 clean sheets in just 18 appearances for United in all competitions this season, one more shutout than David De Gea has recorded in 29 games.
– Pogba has scored in each of his last two away games against Milan – the previous opportunity was while playing for Juventus in April 2016.
United will travel to Leicester City in the last eight FA Cup games on Sunday, ahead of the international break. Milan, meanwhile, are in Serie A action on the same day, visiting Fiorentina.