AC Milan face Manchester United in the Europa League Round of 16 this Thursday. United are back on their feet as they are second in the Premier League table as well as coming off a victory versus Manchester City.
Milan, who faced similar downtimes as United recently are also second in their league. This match-up creates an intriguing narrative of two of the most storied clubs in football slowly but surely making it back to the top.
AC Milan: Three Keys for Victory Over Manchester United
Defence and Midfield Keys
The key for the defence is Theo Hernandez. The left-back missed Milan’s last match (a victory over Hellas Verona) but should be good to go versus United. He’s dealing with a bruised fibula, but he was likely out to ensure his fitness with this match coming up.
Hernandez is important as he is the quickest defender and one very suited for stopping counter-attacks. He’ll be needed for both Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. With this being said, Hernandez is also vital to Milan’s attack. At times, many may confuse him for a natural winger as he’s just that talented going forward. He’s shown strong chemistry with Ante Rebic on Milan’s left side, an area of the field that will be difficult to expose due to Wan-Bissaka’s presence.
The key for the midfield is Sandro Tonali. It would be ideal for Milan to have Ismael Bennacer, but that is in doubt. Franck Kessie is the team’s top midfielder, and a superb performance from him is a virtual guarantee. That makes Tonali the wild-card.
The Italian youngster has picked up his play lately, right in time for this fixture. He also missed the last match but will be back on Thursday. Tonali’s creativity will be key to breaking down United’s midfield and defence. This is the ultimate “prove it” test for the starlet.
The Key for the AC Milan Attack
In what should be no surprise, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the key to Milan’s attack. His health is the most in question, but reports have been positive lately. This is the kind of match the Swede does not want to miss, as he lives for the big moments. In addition, United are also a former team of his.
In an ideal world, Milan would also have Hakan Calhanoglu back. It’s unlikely, but not completely out of the picture. With that being said, players like Tonali and possible Brahim Diaz off the bench are capable of creating chances. These chances have to be finished, however. Ibrahimovic is the leading scorer and best finisher on the team, and Rafael Leão would not be a great option due to his current form.
More than just his performance ability, Ibrahimovic is needed for leadership. Milan are in poor form lately, and a big match from their leader will spark new life to finish the season. Without him, there’s virtually no attack outside of Rebic. Milan do not have to win the first leg, but must make the score sheet in this away fixture at Old Trafford.