AC Milan v Manchester United: Red Devils to conquer San Siro
Milan and Manchester United are level at 1-1 going into the second leg, but Kevin Hatchard believes United will pull away in Italy.
Milan machine running out of fuel
It's been a brave and somewhat surprising effort, but it appears Milan's bid for Serie A title glory has hit the buffers. The weekend's home defeat to Napoli left the Rossoneri nine points behind city rivals Inter in the race for the Scudetto, and there are just 11 matches remaining. Such is the glut of excellent teams in the top half of Serie A, qualification for the Champions League is far from guaranteed, with fifth-placed Napoli now just six points behind Stefano Pioli's side. Indeed, the Infogol Expected Goals data suggests Pioli's side has been overperforming, as the underlying numbers show they should be fifth.
Milan have now lost at San Siro against Inter, Juventus, Napoli, Atalanta and Lille, and in all competitions they have won just one of their last six home matches.
Overall, Milan have won just four times in their last 13 competitive outings. There's an element of regression to the mean here, but it's also worth referencing the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injuries and loss of form - the big Swede hasn't played since the end of February, and he hasn't scored since February 7.
Simon Kjaer's late header at Old Trafford last week gave Milan a precious away goal in a 1-1 draw, and the Italian giants played well, with midfielder Franck Kessie particularly impressive. However, they will have to improve on their jittery home display in the last round, a 1-1 draw with Crvena Zvezda that saw them scrape through on away goals.
Ibrahimovic may once again miss out against his former club, and Mario Mandzukic is also short of full fitness, so Rafael Leao may lead the line. Left-back Theo Hernandez and midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu missed the first leg through injury, but both started at the weekend and should feature here.
United can fully focus on UEL tilt
Despite their recent derby win at Manchester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United surely know that the Premier League title race is over, and has been for some time. United are 14 points behind their old foes with a game in hand, and only an unfathomable collapse from the leaders would open things back up. However, the Red Devils are well on course for another Champions League qualification, and winning the FA Cup remains a distinct possibility.
However, the Europa League is a target that Solskjaer should prize highly. The kudos of winning a major European trophy would reinforce his position, and would convince some of his doubters that the players are performing because of the Norwegian rather than despite him. To Solskjaer's credit, he has taken this tournament seriously since the Red Devils dropped into it from the Champions League.
United were undone at the death in the first leg, as poor marking and flimsy goalkeeping from Dean Henderson allowed Simo Kjaer to head home. However, United can take solace from their excellent away record - they haven't lost on the road since the December defeat in Leipzig that saw them tumble out of the UCL. United have deservedly won at Paris Saint-Germain this term, and they demolish Real Sociedad 4-0 in Turin in the previous round.
I'd expect Solskjaer's go-to big-game pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred to anchor the midfield, with Bruno Fernandes given licence to roam ahead of them. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial will provide pace in attack.
United worth backing at odds-against
Milan are having a tricky time at the moment, and although they performed well last week, this feels like a step too far for them. They have lost big games at home against Inter, Juve and Atalanta, and United can add themselves to that list here. Fatigue and injury problems are reducing Milan's effectiveness, and they miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic's mental and physical strength in attack.
I'll back United to win the second leg inside 90 minutes at 2.24.
Overs/unders a tight call
The market hasn't really taken a strong position when it comes to goals, with Under 2.5 Goals priced at 1.9 and Overs at 1.97, and I can see why. I can't see there being too many early risks taken, but United are in a position where they have to score, and they will take the game to Milan at some stage.
Interestingly, backing No in the Both Teams To Score market is available at 2.2. United were moments away from a clean sheet last week, and nine of their last 13 competitive games have seen either no teams score or just one find the net.
Fernandes always worth considering
I know we backed Bruno Fernandes to score in the first leg, and that was in vain, but I have no hesitation in doing so again here at 2.8 on the Sportsbook. He is United's star player, he takes free-kicks and penalties, and he has rattled in 16 goals in the Premier League alone.
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