The draw for the UEFA Europa League round of 16 took place in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday, and from those Perspex bowls of destiny a blockbuster of a fixture was selected: Manchester United vs. AC Milan.
The two clubs have excellent pedigree when it comes to European football, winning the Champions League on 10 occasions between them, but this is the first time they have ever been pitted against each other in another UEFA competition.
11 - The first leg will be the 11th meeting between Manchester United and AC Milan in European competition, with all 10 previous meetings coming in the European Cup/Champions League. Fallen. #UELdraw pic.twitter.com/dDPyoTV3PT— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2021
United and Milan have faced each other only six times in competitive fixtures, with one of the most famous instances coming in the 2007 semifinals when Kaka scored a wonderful solo goal (with, it must be said, the help of some sub-optimal defending).
Sir Alex Ferguson's side won 3-2 at home in the first leg but a brilliant brace from Kaka ultimately ensured that the Rossoneri advanced with a 5-3 aggregate victory, maintaining the Italian giants' head-to-head hold over the Red Devils.
4 - Manchester United have been eliminated from four of their five UEFA European knockout ties against AC Milan - no side has eliminated the Red Devils more often (also Real Madrid, 4). Foes. #UELdraw pic.twitter.com/Fly56WhSNW— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2021
However, it's not like Milan have always had it their own way, with the 2010 Champions League round of 16 being a case in point.
United have fairly recent experience of what it takes to win the Europa League having won the tournament four years ago.
Glory came in 2016-17 when a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in the first of his two seasons at Old Trafford, helped power the Red Devils through to the latter stages of the competition only to miss the final with a knee injury.
Famously, Ibrahimovic attended the final on crutches but he still managed to celebrate the 2-0 win over Ajax in Stockholm with real gusto.
Man United vs. AC Milan in the Europa League last 16.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 26, 2021
The return of Zlatan 🍿 pic.twitter.com/XtuQQxweKc
Ibra had already made a telling contribution that season, though. He scored the winning goal on his United debut, a 2-1 win over Leicester City to win the season-opening Community Shield at Wembley, and he also netted two goals in the 3-2 win over Southampton in the EFL Cup final.
Overall that season, Ibrahimovic was directly involved in 37 goals in 46 games in all competitions for United during the 2016-17 campaign, scoring 28 goals and providing nine assists Unfortunately, his second season at Old Trafford was curtailed by injury, and he scored just once in seven appearances in 2017-18 before a spell out allowed to fully recover and embark on a goal-laden spell in MLS with LA Galaxy.
Now aged 39, the Swedish striker will now return to face his former club with Milan when the two heavyweights clash in the 2020-21 knockout phase. He'll be returning to Old Trafford hoping to wreak similar havoc on several of his former teammates.
Pogba 🤝 Zlatan— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) February 26, 2021
The Lion is coming back to Old Trafford 🦁 pic.twitter.com/YUmGaSaUQg
Indeed, Eric Bailly must be fearing the worst after, during their time together as teammates, daring to kick Ibra in the backside and fleeing the scene before the latter -- a Taekwondo black belt, no less -- could exact his revenge.
At least Bailly will likely avoid having to face Ibra -- on the pitch at least - as he has not started too many matches this season. So it will likely be some other United defenders who will be dreading having to contain a striker who, despite his advancing years, has still scored 16 goals in 20 appearances this season.
When you realise you're going to have to mark Zlatan Ibrahimovic - TWICE!— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) February 26, 2021
Manchester United have drawn AC Milan in the last 16 of the Europa League. pic.twitter.com/3iPutoaCdJ
This tie will be one that both sets of fans can get excited about, in particular followers of United who will get to see their former star take to the Old Trafford pitch once more. It's just such a shame that none of them will be there to see it in person.
Teams Manchester United have been drawn against in cup competitions this season:— FourFourTwo (@FourFourTwo) February 26, 2021
Paris Saint-Germain 🇫🇷
RB Leipzig 🇩🇪
Manchester City 🏴
Real Sociedad 🇪🇸
Leicester City 🏴
AC Milan 🇮🇹
So many great ties, players and clubs that crowds have missed on seeing 😭 pic.twitter.com/sya9pRhkdH