The brilliant AC Milan at the start of the season has started to perform like an average side at the moment but that does not devalue the efforts of Manchester United and especially Paul Pagba whose strike knocked out the Rossoneri at San Siro in the crucial Round of 16 match of the Europa League. Pogba is the reason the Red Devils are still alive and kicking in the competition.
Man Utd are into the Europa League quarter-finals! ? pic.twitter.com/rSUiwDlGyT
— Goal (@goal) March 18, 2021
Paul Pogba came off the bench at half-time and scored in the 48th minute. With the win, the Red Devils entered tomorrow’s hat for the quarterfinals.
The fans of Manchester united always wanted their World-Cup-winning to star to make a huge impact and in the last couple of matches, he has been delivering the goods to the fans.
Pogba had missed the previous 10 games with a thigh injury and ever since he limped off, with United leading against Everton at Old Trafford, they have struggled.
Had they won that game against the Toffees, they would have gone level on points with Manchester City in the Premier League.
Usain Bolt did not hold back on Man United ? pic.twitter.com/3AJZyHhGyR
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 18, 2021
Creatively, that spark has been lacking without him and the goals have dropped off; their average goals per game dropped to 0.7 in the last six games compared to 2.2 in the 39 games before. Shots per game were down as were big chances created.
But as soon as the creative midfielder returned, Manchester United regained their lost mojo at the center of the park.
AC Milan had the better outing in the first half and seized the initiatives.
The pace of Samu Castillejo and Theo Hernandez caused problems for the Manchester United defence, but the hosts were often let down by poor decision-making in the final third.
A loose pass by Fernandes saw AC Milan launch a devastating counter-attack. However, Castillejo made a hash of the two-on-one situation, allowing Victor Lindelof to prevent a goal with an excellent challenge.
Paul Pogba’s last 4 Man Utd goals:
• equaliser vs. West Ham
• go-ahead goal vs. Burnley
• go-ahead goal vs. Fulham
• go-ahead goal vs. AC Milan
Difference-maker. ? pic.twitter.com/wDgEZTRMpV
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 18, 2021
Alexis Saelemaekers forced Dean Henderson into a smart save with a shot from the edge of the box, and there were mild appeals for a penalty from the ensuing corner.
AC Milan had one final chance right on the stroke of halftime. Hakan Calhanoglu sent in a delightful cross into the box after another break, but Rade Krunic missed the target from six yards, albeit under pressure from Harry Maguire.
Manchester United’s midfield had been struggling against Milan in the first half – stagnant, lacking in imagination, and with the little creative spark.
Fred and Scott McTominay do not have the range of passing that Pogba does and, between them, cannot influence United’s attacking game from deep.
Poor decision-making in the final third had cost the Red Devils good chances early on. Bruno Fernandes was having an off-day and that creative hub was struggling to get going.
PAUL POGBA GOAL ON HIS RETURN FROM INJURY! pic.twitter.com/BRlQevrAID
— PogbaXtra™ (@PogbaXtra) March 18, 2021
For the second half, Pogba was introduced for Rashford to make the first appearance in six weeks. The Frenchman took up Rashford’s left-hand berth and needed just three minutes to make his statement.
A James shot was deflected across to Fred, and when Soualiho Meïté intervened he managed only to give the ball to Pogba. The midfielder’s dummy fooled Gianluigi Donnarumma into committing, and he smashed past the goalkeeper into the roof of the net.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost drew his side level when he rose highest to head a cross by Calhanoglu, but Dean Henderson produced a spectacular save from point-blank range to deny the Swede.
? Back from injury
? Scores 4 minutes after coming on
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 18, 2021
AC Milan created another excellent opportunity when Franck Kessie found himself in a good position to score. However, Lindelof denied him with a pristine challenge on the goal line.
And that was enough to register a place in the quarterfinals.
The Rossoneri were unbeaten in their first 15 league matches this term. Combined with the 12 games played post-lockdown, they had a 27-game unbeaten run. A 3-1 loss to Juventus ended their unbeaten run and four more defeats from 11 matches since then has seen them lose their spot at the summit.
They were also eliminated in the quarterfinal stages of the Coppa Italia by city rivals Inter Milan. This loss to Manchester United means that AC Milan are on the verge of ending the season trophyless.
At this rate, there is no guarantee that they will even finish in the Serie A top four, which would mark a disastrous end to a season that promised so much.