Manchester United have been handed a glamour Europa League round of 16 tie against another former European champion, AC Milan.
United are one of three Premier League sides to qualify for the last-16, with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur also progressing from the last round.
The only English team that failed to overcome the first Europa League knockout stage was Leicester City, who succumbed to a 2-0 aggregate loss to Slavia Prague.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men eased past Real Sociedad 4-0 on aggregate to set up their first European meeting with Milan since the 2009/10 Champions League campaign.
The last time the pair met, the Premier League powerhouse dismantled the Italian club 7-2 on aggregate.
A Resurgent Milan
After a decade of suffering, Milan returned to be one of the main protagonists in Serie A this season.
The Rossoneri have spent the majority of the season at the top of the tree, becoming genuine title contenders for the first time since their triumph in 2010/11.
Stefano Pioli’s side also finished top of their Europa League group, above Lille, Sparta Prague and Celtic.
Playing in the knockout phase for the first time since 2017/18, Milan squeezed past the reigning Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade.
They limped through on away goals, ending a run of seven consecutive two-legged eliminations in which they failed to win the first leg.
Curiously, the last time Milan successfully negotiated such a tie was in 2006/07 when they went on to lift the Champions League trophy under Carlo Ancelotti.
United fell victim to the Rossoneri’s inexorable march towards the title back then, bowing out of the competition’s semi-finals 5-3 on aggregate.
After losing ground on runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan, Pioli’s team will be desperate to see history repeats itself.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to Old Trafford
Ibrahimovic spent a stellar 2016/17 season at Old Trafford, racking up 28 goals and ten assists in 53 outings for United.
Though an injury setback prevented the Swedish superstar from featuring in the Europa League final, Jose Mourinho’s side clinched the trophy with a narrow 1-0 win against Ajax.
The 39-year-old striker now spearheads the line at the San Siro and has his sights set on one last push for the European glory.
Red Rants Prediction
United fans had jokingly hoped to be drawn against Molde – manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former club – who knocked out Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. but would still be considered easy opposition.
Milan are by no means an easy night (or two), but it’s worth noting that before the draw was made, FiveThirtyEight had United with a 24% chance to win the tournament outright, twice as heavy favourites ahead of Arsenal (who seem to be favouring Europe over the league).
In comparison, Milan are pegged at 5%, and their recent dip in form (10th in the Serie A form table) means this will be another tough but navigable round in Europe.
The big question for United will be their spate of injuries and the fact that they have to fight to retain second place in the league as well as play in the FA Cup next month.
The advantage is with United, but it needs players to stay fit or come back from injury by mid-March.
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