Ibrahimovic adds star power as Milan look for repeat performance against old friends United

By Sports Desk March 18, 2021

There was not the gulf some might have anticipated at Old Trafford last week as Manchester United welcomed an injury-hit Milan side.

Four days on from a superb win at rivals Manchester City, United came within two minutes of another big result and a 1-0 lead to take to San Siro, but it was an advantage they scarcely deserved.

A moment of ingenuity from Amad Diallo, heading his first United goal from an excellent Bruno Fernandes pass, had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in front.

At the other end, without Theo Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan repeatedly threatened but lacked the same quality. They had 15 attempts - worth just 1.0 expected non-penalty goals (xG) - and only scored with the last of them, when Simon Kjaer's close-range header evaded the clutches of Dean Henderson.

That away goal sets up an intriguing second leg in which United must now score, although they might have put this Europa League last-16 tie beyond Milan prior to Kjaer's equaliser.

As the Rossoneri fashioned only one 'big chance', from which Opta would expect them to score, United had two from just seven shots. Harry Maguire somehow hit the post and Daniel James stabbed wide, chances that contributed heavily to a superior xG total of 1.4.

Those misses may well prove costly when the tie continues at San Siro on Thursday.

Hernandez and Calhanoglu returned to the Milan XI against Napoli on Sunday and are set to be joined against United by the team's talisman.

In the week his return to the international stage for Sweden at Euro 2020 was confirmed, Ibrahimovic will enjoy another reunion, fit to play some part against his former club.

"His return is important," head coach Stefano Pioli said of Ibrahimovic, who has been out since February with a thigh injury. "He will not be able to have 90 minutes in his legs and tomorrow we will see what to do."

United were hanging on against short-handed opponents, restricted to just 41.2 per cent of the possession in the final 15 minutes, 36.4 per cent of which played out in the home side's own third. It was an encounter that should give Milan huge confidence now Hernandez, Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic are available.

For all their exciting build-up play, the final pass was missing in Manchester. That cutting edge is returning in Milan.

Among Serie A defenders this season, Hernandez ranks joint-third for goals (five), joint-fourth for assists (six) and fourth for chances created (45) in all competitions. He is seventh across all players in the division for expected assists from open play (xG - 3.9) in league action.

Hakan Calhanoglu's numbers are even more impressive. He has created 99 chances in all competitions this term, second only to opposite number Fernandes (107) across Europe's 'top five' leagues.

Having failed to handle Kjaer and Co. from set-pieces last week, United have reason to fear Calhanoglu's delivery. No player can top the 51 opportunities he has forged from set plays. Five of his 10 assists have come from such scenarios.

Crucially, too, of course, Calhanoglu will have a 39-year-old Swede to look for, a focal point also absent last time out.

Rafael Leao played up front for 90 minutes and attempted only a single shot, having four touches in the United box. Ibrahimovic this season averages 4.8 shots and 8.5 touches in the opposition area per 90 minutes.

His xG rate is the highest in Serie A among those to play 500 minutes or more, at 0.8 per 90, and he usually takes those chances, too. With 16 goals from 80 attempts in all competitions, he scores one in five.

Maguire and James were wasteful in the first leg; it seems unlikely Ibrahimovic, always one for the big stage, will be similarly so.

If Milan can dictate the play again this week, they have the attacking talent to settle this tie.

Related items

  • Champions League final: Only Klopp stands between Ancelotti and immortality on night of destiny in Paris Champions League final: Only Klopp stands between Ancelotti and immortality on night of destiny in Paris

    There is a debate to be had that, even if Real Madrid lose Saturday's Champions League final at Stade de France and Carlo Ancelotti never lifts another trophy again, the Italian will still be able to stake a claim as being remembered as the greatest coach of all time.

    After all, he has already won 22 trophies across a managerial career spanning 27 years that has seen him coach 10 different clubs in five different countries. Indeed, he this month became the first coach to win each of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and LaLiga.

    There is no questioning Carlo's credentials, then, but victory against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in Paris really would take the 62-year-old into 'GOAT' territory as the outright most successful coach in terms of major European honours.

    Ancelotti is currently level with Alex Ferguson and Giovanni Trapattoni in that regard with seven UEFA club competition triumphs – three Champions Leagues, three Super Cups and one Intertoto Cup, a much-derided competition that is now defunct.

    Many would suggest a better barometer of determining the true Greatest of All Time would be to simply look at how many Champions Leagues or European Cups, as it was formerly known, a manager has won. In that case, Ancelotti is level with Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane with three apiece.

    Triumphing for a fourth time in UEFA's showpiece competition, having previously done so with Milan in 2003 and 2007, and Madrid in 2014, would therefore set Ancelotti apart from the rest.

    The hugely experienced coach has a great record when it comes to Champions League finals, too, with victories in three of his previous four such matches. The only exception to that? In 2004-05 when Liverpool famously beat Milan on penalties in a game they trailed 3-0 at half-time.

    CARLO'S CUP PEDIGREE

    The glitz and glamour of a Champions League final was far from Klopp's mind in that campaign when in his fourth season in charge of Mainz. The 2004-05 season was just as memorable for the German club's supporters as Liverpool's, though, as they finished 11th in what was their first top-flight campaign.

    Seventeen years on, Klopp now has a shot at becoming one of 17 multiple-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League, level with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and even Manchester United great Ferguson.

    He went all the way with Liverpool in 2019, triumphing over domestic rivals Tottenham, but his previous two finals in the competition ended in disappointment, with defeat against Bayern Munich as Dortmund boss in 2013 and against Zidane's Madrid as Liverpool manager in 2018.

    Zidane may have been replaced by Ancelotti in the Madrid dugout, but this weekend presents Klopp – and indeed Liverpool – with a shot at redemption. Having won two trophies already with the Reds this season, Klopp's cup final record looks a lot better than it did just a few months ago.

    He has now won eight of his 18 finals, which compares to 16 victories from 22 finals for Ancelotti across all competitions. In percentage terms, Klopp has won 44 per cent of finals he has contested, while Ancelotti has won 73 per cent.

    A FAMILIAR FOE AWAITS

    Ancelotti and Klopp are no strangers to one another, of course, with Saturday's showdown set to be their 11th meeting in all competitions. Ancelotti edges the overall record from the previous 10 encounters with four wins to Klopp's three.

    Despite managing an Everton side far inferior to Klopp's Liverpool, Ancelotti lost just one of his three Merseyside derbies during his season-and-a-half in charge of the Toffees.

    That includes three successive games without defeat, culminating in a 2-0 win in February 2021 – Everton's first Anfield victory since 1999 and their first win either home or away over Liverpool since 2010.

    Ancelotti certainly had Klopp's number in the most recent of their battles, although the results of his two finals against English clubs in European competition have been mixed – the aforementioned shoot-out loss in 2005 and a 2-1 win two years later, both during his time with Milan and both against Liverpool.

    The Italian has certainly stood the test of time, with his 70 per cent win rate in his second stint with Madrid bettered only by the 75 per cent enjoyed the first time around in the Spanish capital, and now a shot at history – a fourth Champions League and an eighth European trophy – awaits.

    Against a familiar opponent in both Liverpool and Klopp, and in a city where he helped grow Paris Saint-Germain into a force to be reckoned with just over a decade ago, the stage is set for Ancelotti to further strengthen his claim as being the greatest of them all.

  • Rumour Has It: PSG to make late play for Tchouameni Rumour Has It: PSG to make late play for Tchouameni

    As if the protracted transfer saga for Kylian Mbappe was not arduous enough, new transfer battle lines are being drawn for PSG and Real Madrid.

    The need to rejuvenate Madrid's squad has been identified despite their LaLiga title win and progression to this season's Champions League final.

    According to reports, however, they should prepare for not having everything their way again, with a new player in mind.

    TOP STORY – PSG TO MAKE LATE PLAY FOR TCHOUAMENI    

    PSG are preparing to make a late bid for Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni in an attempt to snatch him from Real Madrid , according to Goal.

    The 22-year-old Monaco star is almost certain to leave the Principality this off-season, but his destination remains unclear.

    Madrid have reportedly been in talks with Monaco over a prospective transfer for over a year, but have not yet completed the deal.

    Kylian Mbappe was believed to have recommended Tchouameni when he was in talks over a move to the Santiago Bernabeu himself.

    Now Mbappe has decided to stay in the French capital, it has accelerated the race to sign Tchouameni.

    ROUND-UP

    – Chelsea are considering a move for RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku, according to Goal.

    Arsenal target Tammy Abraham insists he is happy at Roma but would not rule out a move back to the Premier League, per Metro.

    – In need of a striker, Tuttosport reports the Gunners are also monitoring Alvaro Morata's situation, with his loan deal at Juventus expiring this off-season.

    – Tottenham are targeting Inter centre-back Alessandro Bastoni, with Manchester United also interested, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport.

  • Alvarez bags six for River, Colo Colo eliminated from Copa Libertadores Alvarez bags six for River, Colo Colo eliminated from Copa Libertadores

    Julian Alvarez bagged an extraordinary six goals as River Plate finished off the Copa Libertadores group stage with a win, smashing Alianza Lima 8-1 on Wednesday.

    The Manchester City-bound 22-year-old had effectively secured the win for River in their final game in Group F, scoring a brace in the opening 20 minutes, before sealing a first-half hat-trick four minutes from the interval.

    His third was the pick of the bunch, too, retreating between the lines to receive the ball before driving low and hard into the bottom corner from just outside the penalty area.

    Following Santiago Simon's goal in the 53rd minute, Enzo Gomez arguably topped them all for degree of difficulty, sending the ball into the top corner in the 79th minute before Alvarez rounded out the scoring four minutes later.

    Los Millonarios ended the group stage undefeated, claiming 16 points from a possible 18 with the win.

    Fortaleza snatch second from Colo Colo

    In the other Group F game, Fortaleza took the three points and second spot from Santiago, defeating Colo Colo 4-3.

    With both teams even on seven points coming into the final matchday, Los Albos needed the win but started the match in an inadequate fashion, conceding in only the second minute to Silvio Romero.

    A Moises double before Yago Pikachu's goal in the 61st minute put Fortaleza in control, despite a brace of own-goals from Brayan Ceballos.

    Cerro Porteno scrape through

    Olimpia were unable to leapfrog Cerro Porteno in Group G despite claiming a 1-0 win in Asuncion, putting the latter through to the last 16 on goal difference.

    El Decano needed to win by two goals or more in this Libertadores edition of the Paraguayan Clasico, trailing the Clausura champions by three points and with an inferior goal difference of one.

    Despite an early goal from Fernando Cardozo in the 10th minute, they were unable to break the Azulgrana down and will have to continue in the Copa Sudamericana, finishing third.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.