Manchester United’s pre-season tour is set to come to a close on Saturday afternoon, as the Red Devils face AC Milan in their final friendly of the offseason.
This contest will be an especially interesting one to watch out for, as it pits two European powerhouses who have lost their way in recent years.
Both will look to climb back up the standings this upcoming campaign, and a good result this weekend could provide a crucial momentum boost for either team a week before the 2019/20 season properly kicks off.
United were put to their toughest test last time out, which was odd considering the admittedly weaker level of opposition. Travelling to the homeland of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Red Devils took on Norwegian league side Kristiansund BK.
The Red Devils did dominate most of the contest, controlling possession and putting up many more shots, but they just could not find the breakthrough goal.
However, in the dying minutes, United were able to grab a late winner. Juan Mata was picked out wonderfully by Paul Pogba before being taken out by the opposing keeper.
The diminutive Spaniard stepped up to take the penalty he had won, and Mata made no mistake with the finish, slamming home to give United a deserved victory on the night.
It might have been frustrating afternoon, but the result continued their perfect preseason, while also being a proper test of the teams resolve against a stingy defence.
The same cannot be said about their opponents on Saturday, however, as AC Milan have lost both of their preseason matches so far in International Champions Cup play.
It started with a one-goal loss to Bayern Munich, as the Bundesliga champions took the lead through Leon Goretzka at the stroke of half-time.
Milan then took on Benfica, and also lost 1-0 courtesy of a goal from former Queens Park Rangers midfielder Adel Taarabt.
It may be early, but fans of the Rossoneri will be worried that their team have yet to find the back of the net. Much is expected of phenom striker Krzysztof Piatek, but if the Polish international isn’t firing on all cylinders, there’s no one in the team able to support him.
It could be a different story on Saturday, but Milan will have to figure out a way to get more goals before their Serie A campaign begins.
Last time out
Fans don’t have to look too far back to see when these teams last faced off, as it was just over a year since they’ve played one another. It was another International Champions Cup friendly contest that got off to a hot start, before quickly losing steam.
Alexis Sanchez would provide the lead for United in the 12th minute, latching onto a through ball from Juan Mata before cooly slotting the ball into the back of the net.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Milan would equalize three minutes later. Leonardo Bonucci launched a long ball that found Suso, and the Spaniard did the rest, settling himself before rifling a shot home.
Not much happened in terms of the rest of regulation, but things picked back up when the contest went to penalties. It was a marathon shootout, with both teams converting and missing several efforts. It would last all the way up to the 13th round when Frank Kessie saw his chipped attempt fly over the crossbar to give United a 9-8 win on penalties. Hopefully, we only get more of the same on Saturday.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw, Andreas, McTominay, Pogba, Lingard, Martial, Rashford
AC Milan: Donnarumma, Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez, Borini, Biglia, Calhanoglu, Castillejo, Piatek, Suso
What to watch for
Who comes in for Eric Bailly?
As almost everyone knows, United are plagued with problems at centre-back. Things only got worse when they recently played Tottenham Hotspur, as Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly picked up an injury that will rule him out for approximately five months. He was doing well in pre-season, but his inability to stay healthy has cost him once again.
Now, Solskjaer has to figure out who will replace him in the team. Victor Lindelof is the only proven option at the moment, and he needs a partner. The hierarchy has failed to bring in any help either, as they’ve spent months pursuing Leicester City man Harry Maguire.
Chris Smalling is likely to get the nod as he’s the most experienced centre-back at the club, but he’s never been someone who fans can rely on. However, he’s still managed to outperform Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, who are simply accidents waiting to happen whenever they’re on the field.
At the moment, the fans pick for the role has to be Axel Tuanzebe, as the youngster has been incredibly impressive since returning from his loan spell at Aston Villa. He’s been a presence both in the air and on the ground, and his defensive style compliments Lindelof well. Solskjaer has said he’ll give chances to youth in the past, and he could greatly benefit by putting his faith in Tuanzebe.
Whoever does start against Milan will likely take the field when United start their Premier League campaign at home to Chelsea, so Saturday afternoon will be a key indication of what to expect for the year ahead.