Manchester United reached the Europa League quarterfinals after a brilliantly-taken Paul Pogba goal earned them a 1-0 win at AC Milan to secure a 2-1 aggregate victory in their last-16 tie on Thursday.
Pogba came off the bench at halftime to make his first appearance for United since Feb. 6, and the France midfielder had an immediate impact as he turned the tie in his side’s favour three minutes after the break with a fine goal.
Former United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic came on as a substitute to try to drag Milan back into the match, and he almost equalised in the 74th minute but was denied by a good save from the visitors’ goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
Milan applied plenty of late pressure but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side held on to remain in the hunt to win their first trophy since a Europa League success under Jose Mourinho in 2017.
“We’ve missed Paul. He’s been out for almost two months and any team would miss a player like Paul Pogba. He is very important for us and he’s going to give us a big boost. He makes a very, very big difference to us,” Solskjaer said.
United’s away record this season — they are unbeaten on the road in the Premier League in 2020-21 — will have given them confidence ahead of the Milan trip, but Solskjaer’s team struggled to find that away goal they needed in the first half.
“Obviously, we’re very happy we’re through. I’ll be honest, and the lads and staff would agree, we weren’t good at all especially first half we were awful,” United defender Luke Shaw said. “Second half it always helps to have a world class player like Paul to make a difference and he did that. But we know we need to be better than tonight.”
Milan’s Belgian midfielder Alexis Saelemaekers went closest to breaking the deadlock, but was denied by a smart block from Henderson.
Pogba replaced Marcus Rashford for United in a surprise switch, but his impact was immediate, as the Frenchman cleverly squeezed a strike in at the near post to score his first goal in European competition this season.
Ibrahimovic, Milan’s top scorer this season, was also returning from injury against the club he scored 28 goals for from 2016-18, and the 39-year-old posed a threat, but Henderson’s stop was the closest he came to finding the net.
Pogba almost added a second when he headed just over late on, but one goal was enough for United.
“You give yourself a chance to win a game of football when you keep a clean sheet. Dean Henderson made a fantastic save towards the end and I’m very pleased with everyone’s defending,” Solskjaer added. “We know the back six, with the likes of Scott McTominay and Fred, always give everything.
“There are many good teams left but you’ve got to be spot on. It’s a cup competition and anything can happen. But we are through and we feel confident.”
Ibrahimovicm said the Italian team did not test United enough across the 90 minutes.
“We played well in both legs, but football is like that — if you don’t score, you don’t win,” Ibrahimovic said.
“If you don’t take your chances, there will be moments when you will come under pressure in the game. In one of these moments, they managed to score. When you make mistakes, you pay for them.”