AC Milan 0-1 Man Utd: 5 talking points as Paul Pogba’s return settles San Siro clash

Manchester United battled to a hard-earned victory in the San Siro as they eliminated AC Milan from the Europa League on their way to the quarter-finals.

With the hosts holding the advantage of an away goal from the first leg, the onus was on United to find the answers, but they were second best until the Paul Pogba returned to action off the bench.

The United midfielder was making his first appearance back from injury and galvanised his side with a goal just moments after coming on.

Fred battled for possession in the box, before the ball fell to Pogba, who feinted before shooting high past Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Milan goal.

Milan threw on ex-United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they went in search of an equaliser, with Dean Henderson thwarting the Swede as he palmed his close-range header over the crossbar.

Paul Pogba shapes to shoot as he scores Man Utd's winner in the San SiroUnited’s defence were put under pressure towards the death but stood firm to hold on to their slender lead as they marched into the next round.

Here are the talking points from the San Siro.

1. Super sub

Paul Pogba lifted Unite immeasurably after coming on at half-time
Paul Pogba lifted Unite immeasurably after coming on at half-time(Image: REUTERS)

After struggling to get a hold on the game United needed something to spark them into life at half-time – and Paul Pogba duly delivered.

After six weeks out injured the Frenchman made his return off the bench and grabbed the opening goal just minutes later.

Putting Pogba wide on the left seemed an odd choice by Solskjaer, given United were struggling to win the central midfield battle, but it paid immediate dividends.

He didn’t have too much to do with the finish, but his clever dummy was enough to wrongfoot Donnarumma to lift the ball high into the net.

His position seemed to drift throughout the second half as he caused Milan problems going forward while putting in the hard yards defensively.

But more than that, it was his presence in general which seemed to lift United, who suddenly looked like a different team to the sluggish, unimaginative side of the first 45 minutes.

United have been largely below par since Pogba was ruled out, but he’s back, and it makes all the difference.

2. Fernandes’ first-half struggles

Bruno Fernandes was off the pace in the first half
Bruno Fernandes was off the pace in the first half(Image: Getty Images)

For all the talk of how influential Bruno Fernandes has been for United since his arrival, his showing at the San Siro almost went down as another night where he was missing in action.

United’s talisman failed to really get into the game in the first half and was particularly wasteful in possession.

One of his misplaced passes almost handed Milan a chance on goal, saved only by Victor Lindelof’s last-ditch tackle.

At one stage Fernandes opted to hoof the ball across the field aimlessly from a throw-in, more in hope than anything else, but dangerously surrendered possession to Milan in his own half.

His only chance of the half was an early shot on the edge of the box but he skied it disappointingly over the bar.

It was an indication of the lack of belief Fernandes seems to have at present – a far cry from what we’ve become used to.

Fortunately he found his groove in the second half, but it took the introduction of Pogba for him to start playing, and will not have gone unnoticed by his manager.

3. All pace no substance

Daniel James was impressive down the right but his crossing let him down
Daniel James was impressive down the right but his crossing let him down(Image: Manchester United via Getty Imag)

These were the kind of occasions Daniel James dreamt of when making his switch to United from Swansea.

And while his time at the club has not gone completely to plan, he showed the threat his raw pace can offer in a display of relentless running down the right flank.

The winger gave Milan left-back Theo Hernandez a torrid time all evening – but the problem is, he produced little to show for his efforts.

James’ final ball simply wasn’t good enough. He had often done the hard part by taking Hernandez on, but couldn’t pick out a United shirt with his crossing.

It was promising to see his confidence when opting to go it alone rather than pass to Fernandes midway through the first half, but he couldn’t out-run Fikayo Tomori’s expertly-timed tackle.

James deserves some credit as United had little else going for them, with Marcus Rashford virtually non-existent, but it’s still an area he needs to improve on.

4. Henderson holds the fort

Dean Henderson put his first leg mistake behind him to keep a clean sheet
Dean Henderson put his first leg mistake behind him to keep a clean sheet(Image: Getty Images)

After his mistake in the first leg, the pressure was on Dean Henderson to prove he is capable of wrestling the No.1 jersey away from David de Gea.

United’s first choice stopper was back in the squad, but Henderson got the nod and produced a solid, if unremarkable performance between the sticks.

He dealt well with a routine stop from Franck Kessie early on, before an unconvincing parry from Alexis Saelemaekers when he arguably should have held the ball.

His next stop came in the second half when Saelemakers again tested him, as Henderson palmed the shot away with his left hand, before he later produced his best save to superbly keep out Ibrahimovic’s effort.

It was a game which neither proved Henderson’s credentials nor harmed them which, after last week, he’ll probably be happy to settle for.

5. United stutter but prosper

Pogba's goal sent United through following a difficult tie against tough opponents
Pogba’s goal sent United through following a difficult tie against tough opponents(Image: Getty Images)

This was supposed to be a Milan side whom United could see off comfortably, or at least have the measure of.

But while they progressed to the next round, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men made life difficult with their performances against their Italian counterparts over both legs.

Milan stroked the ball around United with relative ease from the start of this match, with very little intention of converting their possession into chances.

United on the other hand couldn’t keep hold of the ball, which made creating any opportunities to note pretty difficult.

Pogba’s substitution proved to be the turning point, as United soon clicked into gear and began dominating proceedings, but there was an essence of last-ditch about a lot of their defending.

Make no mistake, overcoming Milan was a big hurdle in the competition.

But in the latter rounds, they’ll need to be better.

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