Tag Archives: AC Milan

Lille crowned champions of France as Juventus scrape Champions League qualification

Paris Saint-Germain are not the champions of France anymore, after Lille were crowned the winners of Ligue 1 thanks to their win over Angers on the final day.

The French title race went down to the wire, with PSG needing to better Lille’s result on Sunday to be able to leapfrog them at the final hurdle and win the title for a fourth straight season.

It was never on the cards on the day though, as Lille took an early lead and never looked back. Record signing Jonathan David was put through on goal by Renato Sanches and slotted past the goalkeeper, before Burak Yilmaz smashed a penalty home on the stroke of half-time to all but seal the title in the first half.

PSG had an eventful first half of their own, with Neymar missing a penalty after mind games from the Brest goalkeeper before Angel Di Maria scored directly from a corner. Kylian Mbappe added another in the second half but that wasn’t enough though as Lille stayed firm throughout the second half of their game to be crowned champions for the first time since the 2010/11 season.

It’s an incredible achievement from Christophe Galtier’s side, who have blended youth and experience brilliantly and maintained a very exciting style of play to be able to go toe-to-toe with the billionaires in the capital.

Mauricio Pochettino’s job when appointed in January was to ensure success. While he has won two domestic cups since joining, the club were eliminated at the semi-final stage of the Champions League by Manchester City and now were pipped to the title too, in a league many deem to be a one-horse race.

Considering he only signed an 18-month contract on arrival, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Qatari owners decide to cut ties now and bring someone else in this summer with a more long-term view at things.

Elsewhere on the continent in Italy, Juventus were able to scrape qualification into the Champions League on the final day after Napoli failed to beat Verona and they beat Bologna 4-1.

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Ronaldo watches on as an unused substitute

Manager Andrea Pirlo made the unthinkable decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo from the team for the must-win game, but the choice worked brilliantly as the Bianconeri raced into a 3-0 lead in the first-half. Ronaldo didn’t even come on as Juventus waited patiently, but as Napoli failed to break down Verona and were held to a 1-1 draw their fate was confirmed.

They’ll be joined in the competition by AC Milan, who beat Atalanta 2-0 thanks to two Franck Kessie penalties to finish 3rd and qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2014.

Milan had led the table for a short period during the winter, but eventually faded away and as injuries and poor form picked up their season threatened to spiral out of control. Stefano Pioli was able to manage the situation well though and saw the team win four of their last five games to secure a wonderful season for themselves.

While Ronaldo’s future will almost certainly now be called into question, Juventus will be delighted to have been able to qualify after a very rocky season. They can now focus on rebuilding the squad, with or without Pirlo and Ronaldo, to try and reclaim their place as Italy’s best.

As for PSG, they also have some big decisions to make this summer. Despite the hundreds of millions spent revamping the squad over the years, they are still in need of some big upgrades at full-back and in midfield. Add to that the fact that Mbappe is entering the final year of his contract and there is a lot going on that needs to be addressed this summer.

Remembering Greatness: Alessandro Nesta

Behind every great winning team is a world class defence. Within that world class defence, there is usually one stand-out defender in the team holding it all together.

In every team Alessandro Nesta was in, he made up a large chunk of that solidity with his brilliance. Yet despite winning everything there was to win he’s often overlooked when we discuss the absolute best defenders that we’ve ever seen.

I’ve made it my personal mission to remind everyone just how good Nesta was once upon a time and why he is my personal favourite central defender of all-time.

Nesta’s career started at Lazio, where he played through the youth system as a striker and then a midfielder before eventually settling down as a centre back. His place in ‘The Eagles’ academy came after an offer from Roma was rejected by his father, a lifelong Lazio fan.

He made his debut in the back end of the 1993/94 season as a substitute, but by the time 1997 rolled around Sven-Goran Eriksson had appointed the 21-year-old as the captain of the side. After two full seasons, Lazio were now ready to push for trophies and it was him that was entrusted to lead a pack of players including Roberto Mancini, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Pavel Nedved and Alen Boksic.

That season Lazio were in the race for the treble but they lost their last six games in Serie A to finish fourth, ten points behind eventual winners Juventus. They also made it to the UEFA Cup final but were beaten 3-0 by Inter Milan, although Nesta earned the first trophy of his career by scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final.

He’d go on to be crowned the Young Player of the Year in 1998 as an honour to his performances and his time at Lazio would only bring more success. Despite a serious knee injury picked up during the 1998 World Cup meaning he missed half the season, he returned to captain the side through a title race that would see them miss out on the crown by a single point on the final day.

They did however earn the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup with a win over Mallorca and then go on to beat treble winners Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the following season, thanks to a Marcelo Salas strike.

That campaign would be the best of Nesta’s Lazio career, as he would lead the team to victory in the 2000 Coppa Italia final over Inter as well as becoming Serie A champions for the first time in his illustrious career thanks to a final day victory over Reggina. Lazio would win the next edition of the Italian Supercoppa as Nesta won the final trophy of six during his spell in Rome.

Financial troubles and stellar performances would see him picked up by AC Milan in 2002 for €31million. He’d join a defence alongside Paulo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta to form one of the most feared back lines in Europe and earned instant success.

The Rossoneri finished third in Serie A but were successful in winning the double, trumping AS Roma 6-3 on aggregate in the Coppa Italia before winning the UEFA Champions League on penalties against Juventus, with Nesta scoring the fourth penalty. He was named the defender of the year and named in the UEFA team of the year, highlighting his performances.

The following year his performances alongside the addition of Cafu to the side helped the team to be crowned champions of Italy. Nesta made 38 appearances across all competitions as he was named in the UEFA team of the year for a third consecutive season ahead of Euro 2004, where Italy were eliminated at the group stages following some disappointing displays in front of goal.

Dutch centre half Jaap Stam then joined and former a formidable partnership, as Milan won the Italian Supercoppa before making two Champions League finals in three years between 2005 and 2007.

Unfortunately for Nesta he will be remembered for being part of the Milan side who blew a 3-0 lead to Liverpool in Istanbul, but he was also instrumental at the heart of the defence as they avenged that defeat two years later in Athens.

That final would come a year after Nesta won the World Cup with Italy in Germany. Nesta was first-choice alongside Fabio Cannavaro but picked up a knee injury in the group stages that would rule him out of the remainder of the tournament. As Italy went on to win the tournament, his partner Cannavaro would end up winning the Ballon d’Or following Juventus’ title that went with it, showing just how much extra work he needed to put in without Nesta.

Injuries began to affect the tail end of his career, but that didn’t stop him having one more top class season in 2010 and 2011. Milan won the league once again and then won the Supercoppa at the start of the following season as Nesta continued to be a regular in the side.

Alongside Thiago Silva the club conceded just 24 goals in 38 Serie A games on their way to the title, with Nesta postponing his planned retirement by a season and being named in the team of the year. His added title took his tally up to 326 games for the club with ten trophies won in ten seasons.

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He ended his career playing in the MLS with Canadian outfit Montreal Impact, winning the Canadian title in 2013.

His career is one of the best, with trophies at all his clubs but also a legacy. He is one of the most artistic defenders the game has seen, with brilliant tackling and raw power to match his gazelle like speed and agility. He was also brilliant in the air at 6ft 2 but unlike the defenders of today he didn’t care for being a threat in the opposition box, it was all about stopping goals going in against him.

Nesta led the way for defenders from a young age and for my money is the best Italian centre-back of his generation, despite the accolades some others may have. Remember his greatness next time there’s a debate happening.

How Europe’s leagues can be settled on the final day

A long and crazy season is finally coming to an end, but not before a wild final day across Europe’s top leagues.

While the Bundesliga in Germany is settled, with Bayern Munich finishing as champions for a ninth consecutive season and the top four places already cemented, Spain’s La Liga, France’s Ligue 1 and Italy’s Serie A are all far from complete as we enter the final game of the campaign.

With champions and Champions League places to be settled in them all, lets take a look at all the potential outcomes of the three leagues so that you’re all caught up ahead of the games.


LIGUE 1

The French title race has been one of the most riveting all season long, with Paris Saint-Germain looking to become champions for a fourth season in a row.

Their quest for success has been matched all the way though by LOSC Lille, who have led the way with the points tally since the 20th game of the season. PSG have tried to close the gap but failed to win key games, but Lille have continued winning games to go into the final day of the season as favourites to win the title.

As it stands it’s a three-horse race, although AS Monaco will need a lot of things to go in their favour to become champions.

If Lille win their final game of the season against Angers they will be champions, no matter what else happens in the division.

Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG must better Lille’s result to become champions again. Should they draw with Brest and Lille lose, they will both end the season on 80 points but PSG will win the title on goal difference with the league breaking any ties via GD and then goals scored – not head to head.

If Monaco are to pull off the impossible, they must win their final game of the season against Lens and hope both PSG and Lille lose. On top of that, they will need a six goal swing in their favour for the goal difference. It’s unlikely, but still possible and would represent the biggest shock of all the potential possibilities.


SERIE A

While the champions of Italy are already crowned with Inter Milan ending the dominance of Juventus thanks to the brilliance of Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku in particular, the rest of the division is a free-for-all.

The four places directly below them are all still up for grabs, with the potential of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus team finishing up in the Europa League places very real.

The final day of the season will see Atalanta take on AC Milan, where a win for Milan will not only confirm their place in the Champions League for next season but also move them above Atalanta in the league table. That would also allow Napoli to move above them with a win in their final game against Verona. Should both Milan and Napoli win their games, it won’t matter what Juventus do on the final day against Bologna as they will be unable to be caught.

Juventus must win their game and also hope one of AC Milan or Napoli do not in order to make the top four and ensure their record of appearing every year since 2012 continues. Should Andrea Pirlo’s side fail to win, then both Napoli and Milan will qualify regardless of their own results.


LA LIGA

The simplest of all, but the most tense end to the season will be the Spanish league title race between Madrid’s two biggest clubs Atletico and Real.

The two sides, along with FC Barcelona, have competed all throughout the season to be crowned champions, with Diego Simeone’s side at one point holding a massive lead with games in hand too. However a bad turn in form earlier in the season has seen them be dragged back into the tussle and it will now go down to the final day.

Barcelona were in the race up until this past weekend, when a 2-1 home defeat to Celta Vigo meant they now were unable to match the winning points tally but the tightness of the battle between the top two was on show in the matches involving the two Madrid sides.

Atletico were able to wrap the title up during the last game, if they had won their game against Osasuna and Real Madrid had failed to win. However as Real Madrid took the lead through defender Nacho, Atleti fell behind. They managed to turn the result around however, with goals from substitute Renan Lodi and a late winner from summer signing Luis Suarez meaning the title is still in their hands.

This weekend Simeone’s men will travel to Valladolid knowing that a win will secure them a first title since 2013. Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid will however host Villarreal, who need a win to secure European football themselves next season but also have a Europa League final in the midweek following to navigate.

Should Real Madrid win and Atletico Madrid’s fail to, they will win the title in back-to-back seasons for the first time since their 2006-08 campaigns. Los Blancos’ huge win in December in the Madrid derby means they will win the league should both teams finish level on points, with Spain opting for a head-to-head tie-breaker rather than goal difference.

England’s centre back options that are better than Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady

As Euro 2020 continues to edge ever closer, there are question marks about who will make it into Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad for the tournament.

England are currently selecting through their best pool of talent for several tournaments and that includes defensively, where for once they have an abundance of quality options to choose from.

Despite that though, Southgate seems to have prioritised character and leadership rather than actual defensive quality for two of his centre back options and that is a problem.

It seems pretty certain that alongside Harry Maguire and John Stones it will be Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady and Michael Keane as the central defensive options that Southgate will go for. Mings, Coady and Keane however seem like picks based on reputation rather than form or actual ability.

Currently the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Ezri Konsa and Ben Godfrey are absolutely shining at their respective clubs despite inconsistent form from their clubs and yet none seem to be under consideration for a role at all.

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Konsa is currently the secondary centre-back behind Mings at Aston Villa, but is quite clearly outperforming him this season. Whenever you watch them play together it’s always the younger man who stands out, while Mings has been the man to make the more high profile mistakes including most recently in the defeat to Manchester United where he got far too tight to Mason Greenwood, who turned him before finishing.

Godfrey has been brilliant for Everton too, playing at full-back as well as in a back three under Carlo Ancelotti and shining in the Premier League after his move from Championship side Norwich last summer.

With great pace, great physicality and a very good eye for a pass as shown for his assist for Dominic Calvert-Lewin against West Ham this past weekend, Godfrey is a guaranteed future England international. With Stones and Maguire the sure-fire starting pair, seniority as back-up options should’t be a priority.

Holgate and Konsa have been excellent and arguably outshone their club teammates and the fact they’re not even in a conversation for a spot in the now larger squad is beyond strange.

If Southgate is looking for someone similar to his current options and with leadership quality, then Coady’s involvement over Lewis Dunk is just as peculiar.

The 29-year-old Brighton skipper has been excellent this season despite his club’s struggles. Aerially he has been a powerhouse and has proven to be a threat in the opposition box too, scoring five times.

But what’s been most impressive is his ability to play out from the back under Graham Potter, as Brighton have showed a great ability and confidence to outplay teams no matter the opposition. Their league position is greatly effected by the fact their strikers have struggled to find the back of the net, because defensively they’ve not been that bad at all.

Coady’s main reason for getting into the side was his familiarity in a back three for Wolves over the years, but Dunk can provide that now and is better, so why isn’t he under consideration?

Even after those three the most shocking omission is likely to be AC Milan’s young loanee, Chelsea academy graduate Fikayo Tomori.

The 23-year-old barely featured under Frank Lampard at the start of the season, but since joining the Serie A side on loan has been one of the standout defenders in the league. Absolutely rapid, great on the ball, physically strong and with a great reading of the game, Tomori absolutely deserves to at least be in the conversation.

He’s shown leadership qualities too but is also the perfect covering defender alongside the more dominant type like a Harry Maguire. He has experience within the senior set up in both a back three and four under Southgate and his performances should see him in the squad ahead of more senior options.

Southgate’s mind seems made up, but the defensive lapses that have cost them previously are a problem. For that reason, they should be looking to use the most in-form defenders to try and eradicate them.

The European Super League is rubbish but why are people shocked?

News broke on Sunday that rocked the footballing world, as it was announced that 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs have agreed to form a breakaway ‘Super League’.

The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ as well as Spain and Italy’s three biggest sides have all signed a letter of intent that will see the club’s form their own super league to compete with the UEFA Champions League.

While dates and such aren’t official yet and likely won’t be for a while, it was a huge signal that these clubs are done with the way things are handled by FIFA and their respective leagues.

The move comes just one day prior to UEFA’s plans to announce a Champions League revamp from 2024 onwards, that will see the format of the competition change to a league-like structure where each team will play ten games rather than the traditional six group games.

It’s said the top sides aren’t happy with the revenue share from television deals that would take place if it went through, and thus have decided to form their own league that they control themselves.

The leaked news was met with shock, anger and disgust by many including – and most vocally – Gary Neville, former Manchester United defender and current part-owner of EFL club Salford City.

His argument was simple; it shouldn’t be done during a pandemic when other club’s are struggling for money and he was disgusted that clubs with a footballing tradition such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal would even consider accepting the proposal.

What he failed to consider is that other clubs’ financial position is absolutely nothing to do with any of those clubs or any other club potentially involved. It is not those top clubs’ responsibility to ensure that smaller clubs in and around them and the footballing pyramid are financially secure, in fact, it’s none of their business whatsoever.

Add to that the fact that as he has so conveniently pointed out in the past, these are multi-million pound businesses now and they’re being run as such.

Why would Daniel Levy of Tottenham Hotspur turn down a reported £350m plus guaranteed stability in this league since there are no plans for relegation or promotion currently, in favour of less money and less stability? Because Burnley weren’t invited to the party? It makes no sense.

These clubs are doing what their owners feel is best for their pockets and you absolutely cannot blame them.

Is it right? No. Is it fair on fans? Absolutely not. Is the European Super League even an attractive idea from a fan standpoint? Barely.

But that isn’t the point. The point is that these clubs are the reason that the competitions they’re competing in are so successful and make so much money. They have openly asked for a bigger chunk of the pie because of that and have been outright denied that by UEFA in the Champions League.

Whether you agree or disagree is another argument entirely, the point is that they disagree. They’ve now taken their powers, combined them and decided that they can do it themselves. The TV companies will lap it up because they’re the biggest teams with the best players in the world going head to head regularly. They’ll be dripping in sponsorship money and they’ll be in control.

Their initial plan was to directly compete with the Champions League, not their own domestic leagues and that is important. The talk of a ‘breakaway league’ has only come about because the domestic leagues in question are refusing to allow them to take part in both competitions.

But is the Premier League still the Premier League when the biggest possible fixture is Everton vs Leicester? Is La Liga still valuable when the biggest game of the season is Sevilla vs Valencia? Does anyone care about the Champions League if the best players aren’t involved? The answer is no.

UEFA have rightly got the leagues on their side and it means it’s almost certain that this won’t go ahead anyway. With threats of bans from domestic leagues, continental competitions and even international tournaments in alignment with FIFA, players won’t do it and eventually UEFA and the clubs in question will find a compromise.

It’s really important though that this narrative of big clubs having to babysit smaller clubs is quashed. The attention should be on what it does to fans and for the competitive nature of the sport.

Fans would be forced to travel abroad on a far more regular basis for games that are essentially meaningless since there is no chance of promotion or relegation and would simply be to rack up extra currency for the power-hungry owners to spend elsewhere, because they’re not pumping it back into their clubs.

The irony and hypocrisy of people taking the moral high ground when the Champions League and Premier League were revamped 30 years ago for this exact reason absolutely reeks.

Fans don’t want the super league to happen, the only people that do are the cash-hungry owners. Separate those people from the clubs they represent and you’ll be much closer to the root of the problems.

Remembering Greatness: Rivaldo

When you think Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is flair and their legendary number 10 shirt. From Pele and Zico to Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar the famous yellow and green has been filled with greatness since forever.

But one man who is often overlooked when it comes to the greatness of his career and achievements both at club level and international level is the great Rivaldo.

With a wand of a left foot, incredible upper body strength, sublime skill, finesse and brute power to go with his athleticism, Rivaldo is without a doubt one of Brazil’s greatest ever.

At 6ft 1, he was not your average diminutive creator. He was powerful, able to compete in physical battles in an era where defenders got away with a crunching tackle as a “warning shot” early in the game. Much like the legendary winger Garrincha, his bow-leggedness never caused him an issue or stopped him reaching greatness.

He first broke onto the scene in Europe after signing for Deportivo La Coruna from Palmeiras. He wore the blue and white stripes of the La Liga outfit for just one season, but he immediately put everyone on notice by scoring 21 league goals in 41 appearances to be the fourth-highest scorer in the division.

Those performances were enough to seal him a move to the Camp Nou, after Barcelona agreed to pay around £19million for the then 25-year-old with manager Sir Bobby Robson convincing the club to sign him ahead of Liverpool’s Steve McManaman.

He had an immediate impact for Los Cules scoring 19 goals in 34 games in La Liga as the Catalan side claimed a league and Copa Del Rey double. The following year he bettered his league goal tally and matched it in all competitions despite playing in less games as they retained the title.

That 1998/99 season was a special one for Rivaldo as he had played a part in helping his national side to the 1998 World Cup final, only to be beaten in the final by France. He bounced back brilliantly, going on to win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999.

As the best player in the world officially, he was now the proud owner of Brazil and Barcelona’s number ten shirt but that didn’t stop Louis van Gaal trying to move him around on the pitch.

The Dutch coach tried to put him on the left wing rather than his preferred central playmaker role and despite playing a lot of games his own individual performances struggled. That still didn’t stop him from scoring ten Champions League goals en route to the semi-finals but ultimately he ended the campaign trophyless.

That season saw him linked with moves all over Europe, including Manchester United with then captain Roy Keane naming him as the player that he would most like to see come to Old Trafford.

Instead he opted to stay and produced the best season of his career, scoring 36 goals in 53 games in all competitions but that year is most remembered in Rivaldo’s career for the final game of a long campaign.

With Barcelona and Valencia battling it out for the final Champions League spot, the Brazilian took it upon himself to overtake the opposition with a hat-trick that to this day is widely regarded as the best hat-trick of all time. A stunning, swerving free-kick was his first, before some individual skill and his trademark power found the top corner for his second.

Then in the final minute, Rivaldo received the ball with his back to goal on his chest. His first touch flicked the ball upwards rather than to kill it dead and from the edge of the penalty area he hit a jaw-dropping bicycle kick into the bottom corner to secure the vital three points. If you ask the original R10, that is the greatest goal of his career – and he scored plenty of scorchers.

The following year would be his final with Barcelona, scoring 14 goals in 33 games before the return of Louis van Gaal saw a now 30-year-old Rivaldo was allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.

He joined Italian giants AC Milan, who were still in their pomp with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm as boss. Rivaldo wasn’t as explosive or influential as he was during his heyday anymore, scoring just eight times in 40 appearances across a season-and-a-half in which he broke his European hoodoo to win the Champions League as well as the Coppa Italia.

For all the trophies he won at club level, you cannot overlook his international status.

As previously mentioned he reached the final of the 1998 World Cup, being named in the team of the tournament along the way to a runners-up medal. He scored three times in the tournament for Brazil, with only Ronaldo scoring more for his country.

He bounced back from that disappointment the following summer however, helping the Seleccao to retain their Copa America title in 1999. He scored a tournament high five goals, tied with Ronaldo, and was voted as the tournament’s best player having scored twice in the 3-0 win over Uruguay in the final.

The crowning moment of his Brazil career however came in 2002, when he was a key part of the team that was able to claim victory in the World Cup final to give the country a record fifth title. He scored the winner against Turkey in the group stages, a game where he is more remembered for getting someone sent off for feigning injury when a ball was kicked at him.

He also scored the fourth in a 5-2 win over Costa Rica, at a point where the game was swinging in the minnows favour having just come from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 and also scored the second of four in the win over China. He then scored the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Belgium in the round of 16 before equalising for Brazil in the quarter-final game against England after Michael Owen had put the Three Lions ahead.

The semi-finals and final belonged to R9 as he scored all of Brazil’s goals from then on, but without Rivaldo it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have even got that far. Even in the final it was Rivaldo’s shot that was saved by Oliver Kahn to allow Ronaldo to tap in the opener before he dummied the ball and allowed it to run through to Ronaldo for the second too.

Because of the greatness of R9 at the same time as him as well as the greatness that followed with Ronaldinho and Kaka both winning Ballon d’Or’s also before Neymar became one of Brazil’s all-time greats, Rivaldo’s brilliance is often forgotten.

Don’t let him be forgotten, because he is truly one of the absolute best Brazilians to ever grace the game of football.

Manchester United beat AC Milan thanks to Paul Pogba’s reminder of quality

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.

Fantasy Matches: Sir Alex Ferguson XI vs Carlo Ancelotti XI

*DISCLAIMER*

Just for a little bit of realism in this fantasy match, any players that played under both managers aren’t eligible to be in both teams.


Two of the best and most successful coaches ever went head to head in the Premier League between 2009 and 2011 as Carlo Ancelotti managed Chelsea to a Premier League title, while Sir Alex Ferguson followed that up with a title win of his own as Ancelotti was sacked.

While Ferguson ultimately ended up on top in this mini battle, Ancelotti’s success prior to his time at Chelsea and afterwards ensured that the world remembered just how good he was. With three Champions League trophies to his name as well as league titles in Italy, England, France and Germany he’s one of the best to do it.

Both managers have managed some of the greatest players to ever play the game, but what would happen if you put their best XI’s ever against each other? Who would come out on top? Lets take a look.


In goal, you have two of the best ever. Carlo Ancelotti was able to manage the likes of Dida, Iker Casillas and Thibaut Courtois during his career but it’s the legendary Gianluigi Buffon who gets the nod without a doubt. Ancelotti and Buffon worked together at Parma and while they didn’t have any success together, his quality between the sticks makes him a sure-fire pick.

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For Sir Alex, the decision was a little bit tougher. He worked with a host of top talent between the sticks also and was as successful with each of them, but it’s tough to go with anyone but Peter Schmeichel. The great Dane was the undisputed number one for eight seasons under Ferguson winning 15 trophies during their time together and that makes him the pick.

In defence, much of Ferguson’s team would have played together at some point or another. Gary Neville was the only choice for right-back that made any sense while Patrice Evra’s dynamism in attack meant that he pipped Denis Irwin for the left-back role. Rio Ferdinand played with both and for my money is the best centre-back England has ever produced but his partner was the hardest choice to make. His long-time partner Nemanja Vidic was one option, recreating the 07/08 Champions League winning back line. Instead though, I’ve opted for the big Dutch machine in Jaap Stam.

Stam won three titles in three seasons plus a Champions League and FA Cup trophy during his time at Old Trafford and was arguably the best defender in the world under Ferguson and his ability to compete on any level with all attackers makes him the perfect foil for Ferdinand and a perfect pick.

For Ancelotti, the decision was tougher. The only absolute lock was at left back, as Paolo Maldini makes it into any team he’s eligible for such was his quality. At right-back there were a few choices, but Cafu’s brilliance in both directions got him the nod over the likes of Dani Carvajal and Lillian Thuram. In central defence the likes of John Terry, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Alessandro Nesta and Jerome Boateng were all options but in the end I opted for the two I believe that performed best under him.

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Maldini and Stam played together at Milan, but they’d be on separate teams here

Brazilian Thiago Silva trained under Ancelotti at AC Milan for a few months before the Italian left the club, but they were re-united at Paris Saint-Germain. Silva was colossal at the back for Ancelotti as they won a Ligue 1 title while growing to try and become a force in Europe. The other pick, is the man who led his Real Madrid side to Champions League success despite not being the permanent owner of the captain’s armband yet.

He became a true leader under Ancelotti, scoring the legendary 93rd minute equaliser in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. His pace, aerial prowess, leadership and ability on the ball as well as his defensive positioning make him one of the all-time greats and gets him in this team.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s central midfield pairing was arguably the easiest. He dominated all of English football for years with a duo of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane and despite having the likes of Michael Carrick, Paul Ince and Bryan Robson to call upon too, nobody tops these two for him. Out wide, the options were a little bit tougher but still pretty easy. Throughout the years Ferguson managed some world class wide players, but the obvious selection is Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

Joining as a teenager, Ronaldo progressed to become the best player in the world under the tutelage of the legendary Scottish manager. The question in reality is which wing to play him on, since the next decision was between Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough - Carling Cup : News Photo

Both played a huge part in the club’s success throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s before Beckham left for Real Madrid in 2003 and that exit is the reason why I’ve opted for Giggs. The Welsh winger broke onto the scene way back in 1990 and played every season of his career except for the final year under him so it’s almost impossible to leave him out of the side. His inclusion on the left wing means Ronaldo goes in on the right, where he started his career at Old Trafford.

Ancelotti’s options were much, much harder to decide on. Some huge names like Andrea Pirlo, Angel Di Maria, Gennaro Gattuso, Frank Lampard, Marco Verratti, Thiago Alcantara, Luka Modric, Arturo Vidal and Michael Ballack have all been left out such is the quality of player that he has worked with in the past.

After thinking long and hard, the defensive midfield position goes to Xabi Alonso. His incredible passing range mixed with his defensive quality and intelligence make him the perfect shield in an all-out attack minded midfield. Ahead of him, Clarence Seedorf. The Dutchman is one of the most complete central midfielders Europe has seen in the last 40 years and his best years arguably came under Ancelotti at Milan. He offers a balance of attack and defence and can help to ease the load on Alonso, while also helping to create going forward too.

Quarter-final Brazil v France - World Cup 2006 : News Photo

It’s unlikely Ancelotti’s side would need much help creating though, with Zinedine Zidane and Kaka lining up behind the front two. Kaka won the Ballon d’Or under Ancelotti in Milan with phenomenal dribbling, an eye for goal and fantastic acceleration one of many reasons he was so key to the Serie A side’s successes during that period. Zidane played under Ancelotti at Juventus and they won the Intertoto Cup together in 1999 and his elegance and skill is well known enough for me to not have to justify his inclusion here.

Up front the decision for Sir Alex’s side was unbelievably difficult to make. Despite an array of goalscoring talent over the years I narrowed it down to four – Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney.

Manchester United v West Ham United : News Photo

Now granted, all four warrant an inclusion in the team on their own individual merit and I’m happy to admit my age probably played a part in my selections. Unfortunately I never saw enough of Cantona to justify putting him in ahead of the all-time top goalscorer for the club and arguably the best all-round player to play for the club.

Then it came down to the two best pure goal scorers I’ve seen at the club and I had to go with the man himself, Ruud van Nisterooy. The Dutchman scored 150 goals at Old Trafford in just five seasons with the side and had it not been for a fallout with gaffer, he’d likely have broken all the goalscoring records at the club.

For Ancelotti, the striker positions were a bit easier. While he dealt with some of the best attacking talents during his managerial career, two stood out more than any other.

At AC Milan, his go-to forward throughout was Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko. He scored 90 goals in five seasons under Ancelotti and was one of the most feared strikers in the world, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2004. Then there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who spent a season under Ancelotti in Paris. He scored 35 goals in 46 games for the French champions as they won Ligue 1 together before Ancelotti moved to Madrid. His all-round ability as well as his link-up play and goalscoring attributes make him a handful for any defender and alongside Shevchenko could form one of the great partnerships ever.

So who wins the game? It’s almost impossible to say. My bias as a Manchester United fan without a doubt leads me to think that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side can take a victory but the more you look at the Ancelotti team you struggle to see any weaknesses.

I’ll go with my gut and say Ronaldo’s inclusion in Ferguson’s team gives them the edge and the fact that the vast majority of them have played together before makes me feel they’d take a slight win.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s lack of in-game management costs Man United again

Manchester United conceded a late set-piece goal once again to gift AC Milan an away goal in their Europa League last 16 game as the sides drew 1-1 at Old Trafford.

United overcame a tough start thanks to a questionable VAR decision when Franck Kessie’s fine strike was ruled out for handball, despite replays seemingly showing the ball never struck his arm. A shocking first half performance from the home side came to an end and saw Anthony Martial substituted with an injury, allowing Amad Diallo to come on at half-time.

It took less than five minutes for Amad to make his mark, as he broke the deadlock with a beautiful looping header over Gianluigi Donnarumma after an excellent pass from Bruno Fernandes. The Reds barely threatened after that though as Milan bossed the midfield and eventually found an equaliser in stoppage time thanks to a Simon Kjaer header from a corner, which Dean Henderson should have done better with.

It would be wrong to suggest that Milan didn’t deserve a draw at the very least from the game, but when you consider that United were ahead in the 92nd minute it automatically tells you that it was their game to win.

After brining on Amad at half-time, Ole made a further three changes in the game. All at the same time, with around 20 minutes to go and with the Serie A side in the ascendancy he opted to take off Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and replace them with Fred, Brandon Williams and Luke Shaw.

That instantly handed the initiative to Milan, who were now essentially invited into United’s final third to sustain pressure on their goal. While they didn’t create many clear-cut chances up to the goal, it was the intent of the substitutions that changed the game even moreso into the Italian’s favour.

You’d have thought that Solskjaer would have learnt from past mistakes, too. Against Everton recently he brought on Axel Tuanzebe to try and see out the game with the Toffees in the ascendancy and they scored in the 95th minute from a free-kick being swung into the box. Going back further the same thing happened against Southampton at Old Trafford last season, with the Reds dropping points thanks to an injury time Michael Obafemi goal from a corner.

Rather than trying to get some control of the game to see it out, he chose to just flood the pitch with defensive players. That meant that even when they did get on the ball they had no outlet and the ball just ended up going straight back to Milan for their attacking to start again.

Manchester United v A.C. Milan - UEFA Europa League Round Of 16 Leg One : News Photo

It says something that with one set of substitutions, Solskjaer managed to go from 1-0 up with a balanced 4231 formation to a 5-3-2 formation with three left-backs on the pitch and his starting defensive midfielder playing as the most advanced midfielder now, with the two players who’d started their evenings on the right wing now playing as strikers.

These decisions change the entire mentality of the team on the pitch, almost admitting to them that they’re going to have to dig in for this result now rather than continue to play as they were.

To be clear too, there is nothing wrong per-say with making defensive substitutions so long as you don’t outright change the mentality of the team. Bringing on Fred for Bruno alone would have done the same job he was intending to do but still would have had three attacking players and a back-four. Different personnel, but mostly the same shape – just a bit of control and sturdiness added to a side that were holding on to a short lead.

As United continue to concede these late goals, especially from set-pieces, and the manager continues to make odd in-game decisions that negatively effect the outcome of games, they cannot progress to the level they want to at the business end of the season.

A game that was entirely theirs to lose has now been thrown away and it’s advantage Milan heading to the San Siro for the second leg next week.

Europa League last 16 predictions – Manchester United vs AC Milan

Two absolute giants of the game meet in a competition not befitting of their stature as Manchester United and AC Milan clash in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The Red Devils crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages after defeats in the final two group games against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, before cruising through the round of 32 against Real Sociedad with a 4-0 away win in the first leg. A much relaxed second leg ended goalless as United controlled the tie from the off.

Milan on the other side came through the group stages as group winners, topping the table ahead of Lille, Celtic and Sparta Prague. They were paired up with Red Star Belgrade in the next round where they were held to draws home and away, but the three away goals they scored in comparison to Red Star’s were enough to see them progress.

Manchester United come into the tie in far from the greatest form, but having most recently snapped their rivals Man City’s 21-game winning streak with a 2-0 win at the Etihad. They’ve looked impeccable in the Europa League and their squad is more than strong enough to win the entire competition.

AC Milan on the other hand had started the season incredibly brightly domestically, but have recently fallen off and now find themselves in second place six points behind local rivals Inter in the title race. They’ve won just two of their last seven games in all competitions conceding ten goals and keeping just one clean sheet in that time.

It’s a welcomed return to the upper echelons of the table for the Milan side, who’ve seen their fortunes turned since the appointment of Stefano Pioli last season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has continued to be excellent since returning, although he’s likely to miss the games against his former side with injury while the likes of Rafael Leao, Franck Kessie, Brahim Diaz and Theo Hernandez have all performed exceedingly well.

Both sides have used somewhat rotated sides in the competition so far, and depth is a strength that they both have but it’s hard to look at both squads and not think that United have the edge in this tie.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has opted for a somewhat stronger team for the the two games so far and it’s likely he’ll do something similar here. Marcus Rashford is likely to miss the first leg with an ankle problem, which means Bruno Fernandes is likely to carry the load for the side while he’s injured. That’s not ideal since United would likely rather rest him if they could, but he could hold the key to their progression.

Milan are a good pressing side that tend to take the majority of chances they create, while defensively they’re solid in the air and and very good at nicking the ball in the midfield. They are however prone to individual errors and their shape isn’t the most impressive which could allow a United side in the mood to create.

When the draw was made many people saw United crashing out of the competition, but generally I think people are more fearing of the name of the club rather than the actual team on the pitch.

At their best, Manchester United are the better team and over two legs the expectation is that they should be able to get the win and progress into the quarter-finals as the favourites to win the entire competition.