Milan Europa League Dream Crashes Against Pogba and Manchester United

Milan’s European season is over as a Paul Pogba lone goal forced the Rossoneri to bow out of the Europa League on Thursday night and promoted Manchester United to the Quarter Finals of the second European competition.

It was a colorless game at the San Siro, with Stefano Pioli’s side not necessarily outclassed by the English but incapable to react once Paul Pogba’s magic put the Red Devils ahead early into the second half, giving them a 2-1 aggregate lead after last week’s draw at Old Trafford.

Milan can recriminate at their long list of injured players but Manchester United were in no better shape with Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial not even part of the group who traveled to Milan. All in all, the feeling is that the Rossoneri had everything they needed to prevailed in the double confrontation.

With their dreams of European glory shattered and the train for the Scudetto already lost, there is the concrete risk that Milan’s so far extraordinary season may turn into a disappointment. All Milan can do now is defend a spot among the top four in Italy to book a place into the Champions League next season.

Let’s be frank: Milan and Manchester United have staged much more memorable battles in the past. Tonight’s showdown at the San Siro left little room for entertainment, perhaps a consequence of some forced lineup choices from both sides.

Stefano Pioli continues to be targeted by injuries and was left with the only option of deploying Samu Castillejo as a falso nueve. All his strikers were unavailable, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic sitting on the bench as he still couldn’t endure 90 minutes of play.

Davide Calabria and Alessio Romagnoli left quite a gap in the defense, though their substitutes Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori proved equal to the task. The Chelsea loanee, in particular, continues to prove one of the few positive notes across Milan’s declining performances.

For Manchester, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to line up Marcus Rashford from the start, but the English national is has also just left the physio table and his shape is far from ideal. Rashford touched the ball no more than twice into the whole first half and left room to Paul Pogba after the break.

The Red Devils started more aggressive but Pioli seemed to have seen it coming. His Rossoneri side defended well, with Kalulu and Tomori shining at the back, and managed to survive Manchester’s initial onslaught with no damage.

Milan grew minute by minute and took control around the half hour mark, though their first shot came only on 40 minutes: It was an Alexis Saelemaekers conclusion that gave Dean Henderson no reason for concern. Before half time, Rade Krunic was served by Hakan Calhanoglu but missed the target from a favorable position.

The impression was that Milan could control the Red Devils and keep the score at 0-0 – which would have qualified them on away goals after canceling United’s lead one week ago in the first leg.

But Solskjaer’s substitution of Rashford with Pogba, despite leaving Manchester without any pure striker, bore fruit only three minute into the second period.

The Frenchman took advantage of what was maybe the Rossoneri‘s only defensive hesitation as he resolved for the best a chaotic, extended action into the opposition box – with Milan failing to clear the ball properly twice before it ended on Pogba’s feet. The former Juventus mea disoriented Gianluigi Donnarumma with a feint and then whipped the ball into the near post to open the scoring.

Milan seemed disoriented and struggled to organize a counter-offensive. The blow was a hard one. Stefano Pioli waited until the hour mark to shoot the last bullet as he sent in a patched-up Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

That’s the change the Diavolo needed as they finally had a point of reference on the front line – something that Castillejo could evidently not provide as he was forced in a role that doesn’t belong to him.

Ibra’s and Milan’s hopes, however, crashed against goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s big hand that deflected the Swede’s point-blank header as he stood over Luke Shaw. Ibrahimovic was basically walking, far from an acceptable condition, and that header was his only contribution tonight.

Manchester United didn’t have to sweat much in the last 30 minutes to preserve their one-goal lead and came out as winners in the double confrontation. Milan left the Europa League with the honor of arms, but perhaps with a bitter feeling that they could have done more tonight.


March 18, 2021 – Europa League 2020-2021 Round of 16
MILAN-MANCHESTER UNITED 0-1 (Manchester United advance 1-2 on aggregate)

SCORER: 48′ Pogba

MILAN (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Kalulu (65′ Diogo Dalot), Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez; Meité, Kessié; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Krunic (72′ Brahim Díaz); Castillejo (65′ Ibrahimovic) (A. Donnarumma, Tatarusanu, Gabbia, Bennacer, Tonali, Tonin) Coach: Pioli
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, McTominay; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, James; Rashford (46′ Pogba) (De Gea, Grant; Telles, Tuanzebe, Williams; Diallo, Matic, van de Beek) Coach: Solskjaer

REFEREE: Brych (Germany)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Kalulu, Diogo Dalot, Kjaer, Hernandez (Mi), Shaw (MU); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 5′