Manchester United progressed into the Europa League quarter-finals with a 1-0 win at the San Siro over AC Milan, thanks to substitute Paul Pogba’s goal after returning from injury.
The Frenchman has been missing for almost two months with a hamstring injury picked up in the 3-3 draw with Everton in January, but returned to the substitutes bench in this must-win game for the Reds.
He came on at half-time for Marcus Rashford, who suffered a reoccurrence of his ankle problem, and scored just three minutes later with a fine dummy and strike at the near post as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side held on for a huge win in Milan.
It was a tough first half, where the visitors were very sloppy in possession and struggled to create clear-cut chances once again. Bruno Fernandes had arguably his worst performance in a Manchester United shirt, completing just 54% of his passes in the first 45 minutes.
Enter Pogba, who’s presence in the team immediately seemed to settle the team as the rest of the team looked to him and gave him the ball as much as possible.
His goal was a well taken strike and meant the game opened up even more in United’s favour and a stellar defensive performance from both Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire meant a fifth clean sheet in six games.
Lindelof turned in a man of the match performance on the night, winning headers, clearing crosses and stopping a few counter attacks when left exposed when his full-back was caught out high too. Maguire was dominant aerially once again, even once Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench, and his passing was good from the back to link Luke Shaw into attacks well too.
Pogba’s return to the team was the boost the team have needed with the added quality in midfield. His ball retention was excellent and exactly what the team was missing during this most recent period of bad results, with his intelligence and quality on the ball a huge ingredient in how good a player he is.
It’s not a coincidence that United crumbled when he went off injured and struggled for form while he was away, but now as they welcome him back into the side for the business end of the season they will be hopeful that he can pick up exactly where he left off.
It’s a swift and timely reminder of how important the 28-year-old is to this side and just how difficult he will be to replace should he leave in the summer as he enters the final 12 months of his contract.
United now will look ahead to the last eight of the Europa League, knowing they are likely to be favourites against whoever they draw and are now the favourites to win the entire competition for the first time since 2017.