Manchester United v Milan: Bruno to land a punch
UEL favourites Manchester United face a glamour tie against Milan, and Kevin Hatchard believes they'll make a strong start...
United have chance to underline favourites tag
Manchester United really should have at least reached last season's Europa League final, but they squandered a slew of good chances in their semi-final against Sevilla. This season the Red Devils are the 4.4 favourites to win the competition, and I think that's a fair assessment. They have the best squad in the tournament, and if they come through this tie against Milan, their price will tumble even more.
United's ruthless dismissal of Real Sociedad in the round of 32 caught the eye. They smashed the Basque side 4-0 in the first leg in Italy (the game was switched) and then drew 0-0 at Old Trafford. United's commitment to the competition was showcased by their decision to start star player Bruno Fernandes in the second leg, even though the tie was already effectively over.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men produced a superb display in Sunday's Manchester derby, as they won 2-0 at the Etihad. It won't change the title picture (they are still 11 points behind City with only ten games left), but it was still a timely confidence boost ahead of a run in that could bring silverware and Champions League qualification. United have now kept four straight clean sheets, and they have only leaked two goals in their last eight games.
Goalkeeper David De Gea is still in Spain after the birth of his daughter Yanay, so Dean Henderson is expected to deputise in goal. Marcus Rashford is injured, while Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek are struggling with knocks. Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Phil Jones are also out.
Milan haven't given up on dreams of glory
Given Juventus' recent dominance in Italy, it's easy to forget what a football giant Milan is. The Rossoneri have won the Serie A title 18 times, and have been champions of Europe on seven occasions. Financial issues and poor recruitment of players and coaches have combined to stop a consistent challenge to Juventus, or indeed regular participation in the Champions League.
When he was appointed, coach Stefano Pioli was seen as a safe pair of hands, a thoroughly nice man who could steady the ship. German coach Ralf Rangnick was seen as the true long-term option, someone who would overhaul the club in a dual role as coach and sporting director. However, the football world changes quickly, and Pioli did so well that the Rangnick plans were shelved.
Milan led the Serie A table earlier in the campaign, but they have been reeled in and passed by their old foes Inter, who recently smacked them 3-0 in the Derby della Madonnina. Talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done a lot to change the mindset of a young squad, but his influence on matches has waned of late. The Swede has only scored in three of his last 11 appearances, and he hasn't found the net in more than a month.
It's unclear whether former United striker Ibrahimovic will feature at Old Trafford because of fitness concerns, while there are doubts over Ante Rebic and Theo Hernandez. Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu and Brahim Diaz are expected to miss out. On-loan United defender Diogo Dalot is eligible to face his parent club.
United are fair favourites
The hosts are in great form, they'll field a strong side, and Milan have only won two of their last seven games. Given that the title race in Italy is far from over, and that Milan have a big game against Napoli this weekend, it's not clear whether Pioli will select his strongest team. The Italians were far from impressive in the last round against Crvena Zvezda, and I think United will overwhelm them here.
United are 1.71 favourites in the Match Odds market, but we can boost that price by backing United to win and Under 3.5 Goals on the Same Game Multi at 2.28. Just two of Milan's last 14 games have featured four goals or more, and United are defending well.
Always back Bruno
Given his consistent influence on games, I find it amazing that Bruno Fernandes continues to be priced well above evens to score in some games. The Portuguese superstar takes penalties, free-kicks and long-range shots, and he scored a brace in the previous round. He has scored in seven of his last 13 games, and I'll happily back him to find the net again at 2.4.
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