Manchester United 1 AC Milan 1
Amad Diallo seemed to have given Manchester United a slim victory with his sweet back-header only for Simon Kjær’s stoppage-time strike to rescue a draw for Milan, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side again switched off at a corner.
Milan can deem themselves worthy of the vital away goal they travel back to Italy with, as Stefan Pioli’s side were always positive and, for large swathes, the dominant force. It means that, when Solskjær’s men return to the San Siro next Thursday, they will be underdogs to progress to the quarter-finals.
This was an 11th meeting between clubs who have 10 European Cups and one Europa League between them, United having won this competition in 2017. Solskjær arranged his team in the regular 4-2-3-1, the XI showing four changes from Sunday's 2-0 win at Manchester City. Out went Victor Lindelöf, Luke Shaw, Fred and Marcus Rashford; in came Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Nemanja Matic and Mason Greenwood.
Pioli’s men arrived as Serie A’s second-best side, six points behind rivals Inter and having last been champions a decade ago. They were without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, once of this parish, but his replacement Rafael Leão had the ball past Dean Henderson early on. The striker was flagged – correctly – offside but not before he had ran past United’s defence too easily to send a warning to Solskjaer’s side.
United soon gave Milan their own. Telles marauded along the left and hit in a ball that Anthony Martial chested and then struck cleanly on the volley, causing Gianluigi Donnarumma to palm over.
Milan were here to force the issue, their pressing inside United’s half posing a problem. What Solskjær’s side did not need to do was switch off, as they did when Davide Calabria’s throw-in was allowed to reach Franck Kessié. His 20-yard strike gave Henderson no chance but after a delay VAR ruled the midfielder had handballed to control.
This was a second let-off but United remained in slumbering mode when Rade Krunic swept in a long free-kick that no red shirt wanted to claim aerially. Milan were caught offside but what United required were smelling salts to jolt themselves awake.
There was zero pattern to their play. Instead, the visitors tapped the ball around in a manner that had the feeling of a schooling for United. When Bruno Fernandes could finally look ahead in possession, his intended pass was too short and the attack fizzled out.
Instead, Calabria could thrust from right back into United's area to cause havoc, and the home side escaped again in what was becoming a Harry Houdini-act of a half. Their next close shave came when Martial jumped out of a challenge near Milan's area. Suddenly, Brahim Díaz broke fast, Alexis Saelemaekers took over and cut inside from the right. Henderson's fingers were warmed by his fierce effort.
Here, Harry Maguire shouted to his team-mates to stop giving the ball away. The captain might also have implored his team to get out of backward gear, fast. But they did start to brighten and soon went close to an unlikely opener. Telles swung in a corner from the right which Fernandes flicked on. He looped the ball over Donnarumma, who managed a faint touch, before Maguire hit the post from inches. The ball went across goal but somehow stayed out, and the score remained goalless.
It was still that way at the break, with the Italians perhaps rueing not being ahead given that United would surely be better after a Solskjær flea in their collective ear. Now, the Norwegian replaced Martial, who may have been injured, with Diallo. The teenager took up his place on the right of United’s attack, with Greenwood moving to centre forward.
A Fernandes ball that released Greenwood along the left suggested United would, indeed, improve. Then, the Portuguese earned a free-kick in a central area. He sent it to Matic, who gave the ball back to him, and Fernandes gazed up, spied Diallo’s clever inside-right run and expertly chipped it to him. The youngster’s flick past Donnarumma oozed class.
It was a fine way to open his United account, and Milan were stunned. Their response was an instant bombardment of Henderson's goal, in which Franck Kessie had a snapshot repelled by the goalkeeper. Pioli's team felt a penalty should have been theirs when Aaron Wan-Bissaka reached over Díaz to head clear and the latter went down.
As a spectacle, the game had upped its entertainment levels. Next, Calabria zipped over a cross which Krunic flung his head at, connecting with the ball but unable to keep it down. Then United offered a rare counterpunch when Greenwood combined with Diallo, before finding Dan James in space. The winger was under no pressure, but his control faltered.
The closing minutes began in a squall that made composed play tricky. But in the 92nd-minute, Kjaer’s intervention dazed United, who will have much work to do next week. They can only blame themselves, as too many goals are allowed from dead-ball situations. – Guardian