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Preview: Manchester United vs. AC Milan - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Manchester United and AC Milan, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Two continental giants clash at Old Trafford on Thursday, as Manchester United meet AC Milan in the Europa League, with both sides seeking silverware in Europe as they trail in the wake of local rivals domestically.

More accustomed to going head-to-head at the elite level, this heavyweight last-16 tie pits together a pair of once-dominant clubs, now edging closer to former glories under unfashionable but effective management.

Match preview

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring against Manchester City in the Premier League on March 7, 2021© Reuters

In their first encounter for 11 years, Manchester United meet Milan for the first-ever time in Europe's second tier competition - a sign of their diminished stature, perhaps, as other domestic rivals have surpassed them in recent times. They do, however, share a rich history together, having been drawn against one another five times previously in either the European Cup or Champions League knockout phase.

Courtesy of their relatively recent success under Jose Mourinho, United are the only club remaining in this season's competition to have won the Europa League in its current guise, while Milan are yet to reach the final of either this incarnation or its predecessor, the UEFA Cup; only ever making it as far as the semi-final in both 1972 and 2002.

Ahead of this week's first leg at Old Trafford, United ended local rivals Manchester City's remarkable 21-match winning run in all competitions on Sunday, with a 2-0 away victory in the Premier League. Nevertheless, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are still 11 points adrift of their cross-city counterparts.

With a Milan squad reborn since football first resumed last summer also currently second behind San Siro-sharing foes Inter in Serie A, it should prove another stern challenge for the Premier League side, following their impressive elimination of La Liga outfit Real Sociedad in the previous round.

Having competed in the Champions League during the autumn, but seeing defeats in their final two Group H fixtures leave them in the wake of Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, United subsequently saw off La Real by means of a 4-0 win in Budapest's Puskas Arena followed by a goalless draw in the home leg.

Now unbeaten in 17 consecutive games since the end of January and still basking in the glow of victory in the Manchester derby, the hosts will also have history on their side, as they have won four of their previous five games versus Milan on home soil.

AC Milan's Theo Hernandez celebrates scoring their second goal with Rafael Leao and teammates in the Europa League on February 18, 2021© Reuters

Returning to the scene of their 2003 Champions League final success, when they defeated compatriots Juventus on penalties after a goalless draw, Milan travel to England amid a spell of inconsistent form, representing their first serious wobble since returning to action after the Serie A shutdown last year.

Partly attributable to a stubborn injury list, which has exposed their relative lack of squad depth, the Rossoneri have won only two of their last seven games in all competitions, allowing their bitter rivals Inter to dump them out of the Coppa Italia and overtake them at the top of the table.

However, in their two most recent away trips domestically, Milan have enjoyed two fine wins against Roma and Verona, demonstrating some resilience in the face of adversity.

One of several key men who have been unavailable to coach Stefano Pioli in recent weeks, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is particularly well-regarded in Manchester, having served the Red Devils for two years before heading off for a sojourn in MLS.

The Swedish star's subsequent return to his spiritual home in Italy's second city has been transformative for a team which had fallen on hard times, but the self-anointed 'King Zlatan' may well be missing from the Milan lineup at the Theatre of Dreams due to the latest in a succession of injuries to affect him this term.

Nevertheless, the Diavolo's talismanic target-man was scarcely involved as they knocked out another former giant of the European game, Red Star Belgrade, in the previous round, with some of Pioli's more youthful attacking talents instead to the fore.

Progressing unconvincingly, by the combined virtues of an own goal, two penalties and the away goals rule, the Serie A side aired all their recent frailties across two hard-fought contests with the Serbian champions, but are unlikely to find such forgiving opponents on Thursday night.

Manchester United Europa League form:
  • W
  • D

Manchester United form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • D
  • D
  • W

AC Milan Europa League form:
  • L
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • D

AC Milan form (all competitions):
  • D
  • L
  • D
  • W
  • D
  • W

Team News

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford gets treatment for an injury on March 7, 2021© Reuters

There are several injury doubts in the Manchester United camp ahead of Milan's visit, with Marcus Rashford having limped off early during Sunday's Manchester derby with an ankle injury and fellow forward Edinson Cavani missing the top-of-the-table clash after aggravating an injury in training last week.

A former Europa League finalist with Ajax, Donny van de Beek has not been fit to feature in any of United's last five matches, while Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Phil Jones are all expected to miss out too.

First-choice goalkeeper David De Gea is reportedly still in Spain following the birth of his child, which would leave the door open for Dean Henderson to keep his place as the last line of defence. The promising English stopper played in both legs against Real Sociedad and the recent Premier League clashes with Crystal Palace and City, keeping clean sheets on each occasion.

Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Nemanja Matic are set to be part of the starting XI, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shuffles his pack.

Visiting manager Stefano Pioli, like his opposite number, has tended to rotate resources in the Europa League and his hand will be forced into doing so again in Manchester, as Milan are expected to be without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ismael Bennacer. There has been some speculation of a miraculous return to action for their star striker, but his chances seem slim.

First-choices Hakan Calhanoglu, Ante Rebic and Theo Hernandez are in doubt too and are unlikely to be risked with the home leg coming up next week.

Recently, Pioli has offered rests to both of the previously watertight central-defensive pairing Simon Kjaer and Alessandro Romagnoli, with Chelsea loanee Fikayo Tomori an option to replace either man if required. Another loan signing, Diogo Dalot, could start upon returning to his parent club, covering Hernandez at left-back.

A regular fixture in continental competition this term, Rafael Leao is set to lead the line in the probable absence of Ibrahimovic and his experienced understudy Mario Mandzukic.

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Telles; Matic, McTominay; Greenwood, Fernandes, James; Cavani

AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Dalot; Tonali, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Castillejo; Leao

SM words green background

We say: Manchester United 1-0 AC Milan

Reinvigorated by their weekend derby success, United are capable of starving an injury-hit and increasingly inconsistent Milan side of too many opportunities; utilising their renowned pace on the counter to establish a lead in this eye-catching tie.

As their focus may be more weighted towards the still-glowing embers of their Scudetto challenge and even next week's return encounter, Milan may find themselves with work to do in the return leg - particularly if flying full-back Theo Hernandez is not fit to boost their attack from the flank.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at are predicting a double chance bet on a home win or an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home/Away:data

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