Stefano Pioli insists Milan are in confident mood ahead of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United, despite having to contend with a growing injury list.

Milan are without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Mandzukic, Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Theo Hernandez and Ante Rebic for Thursday's first leg.

The Italian side travel to Old Trafford with just two strikers in their squad – Rafael Leao and academy product Riccardo Tonin, who has yet to feature at senior level.

However, Milan were also far from full strength for their 2-0 league win at Hellas Verona last weekend and Pioli is hoping to build confidence from that victory.

"We have a choice to make: either let ourselves be overwhelmed by the negative waves or ride the positive ones of confidence," he said. 

"We will choose to ride it and I'm sure the team will put in a good performance against a difficult opponent.

"Winning our last game gives us momentum. When we play at our best we do well and against United we will be prepared.

"We have to play this type of game to our fullest ability. A positive result would give us momentum in view of the return match."

Milan are meeting United for the 11th time in a competitive match, though all 10 previous encounters have come in either the European Cup or Champions League.

The Rossoneri have not competed in Europe's flagship competition since 2013-14, while English heavyweights United exited the tournament at the group stage.

Both teams are second in their domestic leagues and United enter the match on the back of an impressive 2-0 win at Manchester City last time out.

But Pioli does not believe the winners of the two-legged affair should necessarily be considered the favourites to go all the way and lift the trophy.

"I don't think so. There are many other teams that have a chance to win it," he said. "But of course it is a prestigious match with a lot of history and past.

"We are working hard to get back to winning trophies. As [technical director Paolo] Maldini said, it takes a couple of years of continued presence in the Champions League.

"We need to tackle this path with enthusiasm and conviction."

Thursday's clash will mark a first return to Old Trafford for Diogo Dalot since joining Milan on loan last October.

The full-back struggled for appearances at United but has been used 20 times in all competitions by Pioli, including eight outings in the Europa League.

"We are happy with his performance and his growth," Pioli said. "As far as his future is concerned, we are too focused on the league and on the Europa League for that.

"Besides, it is not me who makes a decision about his future."

Milan have been eliminated on six of the last seven occasions in which they have reached the last 16 of a major European competition.

However, they have got the better of United in four of their previous five knockout ties in European competition, with no side eliminating the Red Devils more often.

Rade Krunic and Diogo Dalot scored their first Serie A goals for Milan in an impressive 2-0 victory at Hellas Verona.

Krunic opened the scoring with a brilliant first-half free-kick and Dalot doubled Milan's lead with a classy strike early in the second period at Marcantonio Bentegodi on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli’s side should have won by a more emphatic margin, but victory moved them three points behind leaders Inter, who play Atalanta on Monday.

The Rossoneri are now unbeaten in four matches ahead of a Europa League encounter with Manchester United on Thursday.

Milan made a positive start and they should have been in front when Rafael Leao headed Davide Calabria's whipped delivery over the crossbar.

Pioli's men continued to pose an attacking threat and Krunic made the breakthrough 27 minutes in, finding the far corner of the net with a sublime free-kick after he was upended by Giangiacomo Magnani at full tilt.

Striker Leao twice fired over to ensure Verona trailed by just the one goal at the end of a one-sided first half.

But Dalot put Milan two up just four minutes into the second half with a sublime finish, finding the top-right corner of the net with his right foot after throwing a clever dummy just outside the penalty area.

Alexis Saelemaekers came close to a third goal when he drilled a venomous strike over the bar as Verona struggled to contain Milan.

Federico Ceccherini headed wide at the other end with around 14 minutes to go and Krunic cleared Marco Faraoni’s header off the line as Milan secured three precious points.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is relishing the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford after being blown away by the late-career rejuvenation of the Swedish great.

Manchester United and Milan were drawn together in the Europa League last 16 on Friday, giving the second-tier competition a glamour tie.

A serious knee ligament injury sustained in April 2017, near the end of his first season with Manchester United, raised doubts about whether Ibrahimovic would play at the highest level again. He got fit enough to make a first-team return before heading off to LA Galaxy, seemingly to wind down his career in the United States.

Yet Ibrahimovic was not finished with European football and in December 2019 embarked on a second spell with Milan, which has surpassed the most generous of expectations.

Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in 40 games so far for the Rossoneri, including 16 in 20 appearances this season to help Milan mount a title challenge. In doing so, the 39-year-old has passed the 500-goal mark in his club career.

Milan's lead in the Scudetto race was reined in by Inter, who now lead the way in Serie A, but Ibrahimovic's impact has been seismic in Italy.

United loanee Diogo Dalot, who has played 19 games for Milan this season, may also be heading back to Manchester for the March 11 first leg as he is eligible for the tie.

"Zlatan, of course, I've been so impressed, I've got to say, by how his career has gone," United manager Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He had a career-threatening injury when he was here but came back from that and went to MLS, then came back to Milan and has really lifted them. They're on the up and have done really well this season.

"I've been so impressed by him, and Diogo we know. He went there to get some experience at a big club and he's learned a lot. He's played a lot more games this season, kept fit and, hopefully, we can give him some bother!"

Ibrahimovic hit 28 goals in 46 games in his first season at United, adding one more strike in seven games in the following season as he fought his way back to full fitness.

His United goals came at a rate of one every 139.1 minutes, compared to his stunning Milan average strike rate of 109.9 minutes per goal.

He has also boosted his big chance conversion rate from 35.7 per cent at United to 45 per cent with Milan.

Solskjaer, whose side face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday, may have wished for a kinder European draw, particularly as it came on the Norwegian's 48th birthday.

"It's a nice birthday gift, isn't it? To watch that draw!" he said. "We do have the tradition of making it hard for ourselves in draws.

"It's one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game. It's good for us to have these games to look forward to. This team needs challenges and we enjoy challenges and we embrace them.

"The tradition and history of AC Milan, it's a great club that we welcome and it's a great stadium that we go to there, and we're looking forward to it."

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