NYON: Seven-time European champions AC Milan have been drawn to play Manchester United in what is the standout tie in next month’s Europa League round of 16.
Friday’s draw sends Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the English club where he played for two years, including the 2016-17 season when United won their only Europa League title.
Ajax Amsterdam, the four-time European champions, will take on Swiss club Young Boys, while Arsenal face Greek side Olympiakos and Tottenham Hotspur, the third English club to reach the last 16, will tackle Dinamo Zagreb.
Slavia Prague’s reward for knocking out Leicester City is a two-legged tie against Scottish champions-elect Rangers.
European debutants Granada of Spain will face Norwegian club Molde while AS Roma face a tough tie against seasoned European contenders Shakhtar Donetsk.
Three-time semi-finalists Villarreal, coached by three-time Europa League winner Unai Emery, take on Dynamo Kiev.
Ukraine have two teams in the last 16 while higher-ranked countries Germany, France, Portugal and Russia have none left.
The ties will take place on March 11 and 18 with this season’s final taking place in Gdansk where the eventual winners will take a place in next season’s Champions League.
A clash between Milan and three-time European champions United will loom large over the last 16 for several reasons.
The clubs have met in three European Cup semi-finals, Milan winning all of them, but have not faced each other since 2010 when United won 7-2 on aggregate in the last 16 of the Champions League.
“It’s one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game,” United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told the club’s website. “It’s good for us to have these games to look forward to.”
United dropped into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group. Milan last played in the top-tier competition in 2014.
Both teams are on track to qualify for the next Champions League, in second place in their domestic leagues trailing crosstown rivals Manchester City and Inter Milan, respectively.
Milan have never won the Europa League, or its predecessor the UEFA Cup — the only continental title they have yet to win.
For Tottenham and Arsenal, the Europa League offers their most likely routes into the Champions League as they are ninth and 11th respectively in the Premier League.
Arsenal will return to Athens for the second round in succession after the “home” leg of their tie against Benfica on Thursday was played at Olympiakos’ stadium because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Some venues could change due to national restrictions on travel and quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Molde are unlikely to play in Norway for the second leg against Granada of Spain. Molde played their round-of-32 home game against Hoffenheim at Villarreal’s stadium in Spain.
Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2021