Man United-Milan lives up to an illustrious history

Date published: Thursday 11th March 2021 8:13 - Dave Tickner

Franck Kessie Bruno Fernandes Manchester United v Milan

Well you can’t really say Milan didn’t deserve it.

Manchester United will, of course, be deeply frustrated about the lateness of the equaliser in this thoroughly entertaining Europa League last-16 first leg. At 1-0 up despite a superb display from the visitors, United were 90 seconds away from what would, frankly, have been a right result.

At the start of the evening, buoyed by the memories of that fine 2-0 party-pooping win at Manchester City and looking at a Milan team sheet shorn of several key names through injury, United may well have entertained thoughts of a bigger cushion or even putting the tie to bed in the first leg as they did so emphatically against Sociedad in the last round.

But after 90 minutes in which Milan gave at least as good as they got, a win and a clean sheet that would have meant any United goal in the San Siro next week made life very awkward indeed represented a very decent evening’s work. United’s away form is the stuff of legend; given how well Milan played here, there is every chance this is the more difficult leg anyway.

Now, though, it’s fascinatingly poised. Given the players absent, this was seriously impressive from Milan.

Inspired by an irrepressible Franck Kessie, Milan were excellent in a first half they dominated, United slow to rouse from their dreams of derby delight and failing to respond even after Milan had two early goals chalked off, the first straightforwardly for offside and the second more controversially for a VAR handball when a foul throw looked like the only obvious infringement.

The best Manchester United player on the pitch in the first half was Diogo Dalot, on loan at Milan and whipping in crosses from the left as the visitors spent almost the entire half on the front foot. United created only one real chance in the first half, although to be fair it was one that had an xG of about 2.3, Maguire somehow contriving to shin the ball into the post from fully six inches out.

The goal came early in the first half and it was a beauty. Created, inevitably, by Bruno Fernandes clipping a delightful ball forward and, less inevitably, Amad Diallo flicking an ingenious back-header over Gianluigi Donnarumma. If Dalot made his most telling contribution at Old Trafford in the first half, Diallo certainly did in the second with a fine Javier Hernandez impression.

United were much improved after the break, the introduction of Diallo proving invigorating for Fernandes and Mason Greenwood, and you wondered whether the hosts might pull clear.

Milan kept coming, though, and the first of 11 European meetings between these giants in the second-tier competition was fully worthy of the illustrious company it keeps. The rest of the second half was an increasingly good game of football played in increasingly atrocious weather. It’s not cutting-edge analysis but this was high-quality fare of the type we haven’t always seen from understandably fatigued players in recent months. It really was just genuinely nice to watch and enjoy a fine game of football.

United had their chances to extend an already flattering advantage, Daniel James particularly if not quite Maguire-level culpable when struggling to sort his feet out and slicing wide with the goal gaping.

But the better chances were coming at the other end. Dean Henderson could and should have done far better with Simon Kjaer’s header, but there can be no complaints about the result.

More of the same entertainment in the second leg would be nice, United seeking just a minor tweak in the final result.

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