When the draw for the round of 16 in the Europa League was made, less than two weeks ago, it threw up a mouth-watering clash of giants...
Milan vs Manchester United!
The Rossoneri and the Red Devils have a long standing tradition of meetings that goes back decades. Both clubs saw the value of continental competition as a way to export their name and brand and as such are two of the most popular sporting clubs in the world.
They have met a total of 10 times, always in the European Cup and with an even spilt of five wins apiece.
Let's look back at those ties.
Following the Munich Air Disaster, a depleted, but still very competitive Man Utd team hosted a Giuseppe Viani managed Rossoneri at Old Trafford on the 8th of May 1958. The away side set up with an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Per Bredesen, Ernesto Cucchiaroni and Juan Alberto Schiaffino up front.
With the Super Swede and captain Nils Liedholm pulling the strings from midfield, the Italians took the lead with a well-worked move, that was finished off by the Uruguayan Schiaffino. The English side knew they could not to afford to go to the San Siro with a deficit and promptly pushed forward and were rewarded.
A Dennis Violet equaliser just before the break and a Ernie Taylor penalty less than 10 minutes before the end, gave the home side a slender 2-1 victory to take to Milano.
Back home and Milan went on an incessant attack for the full 90 minutes. Schiaffino again opened the scoring for his team with a lovely one-two with Liedholm and as the teams headed to the interval, Milan were going through on away goals.
They however, did not sit on that lead and scored three more in the second 45 minutes to run out 4-0 winners. Liedholm got his name on the score-sheet from the penalty spot, he set-up Giancarlo Danova for a tap-in and Schiaffino scored his brace after nice wing play from Danova.
It gave the 60000 fans in the stadium hopes of a first European Cup, but unfortunately, they fell at the last hurdle, losing 2-3 to Real Madrid.
The clubs did not meet for over a decade later and much had changed for both. Man Utd under Matt Busby had incredible re-built his side and were the reigning European champions. Meanwhile, Milan was under the astute tutelage of Nereo Rocco, who returned for a second spell after his first in the early 60's, which included the club's maiden European Cup in 1963.
Milan's captain by this time was Gianni Rivera, but unfortunately, he had to be subbed off at the 22nd minute, replaced by Romano Fogli. The team though did not let the loss of their leader deter them and took the lead 10 minutes later. Following the ball bouncing around several players, Brazilian Angelo Sormani let loose with a right-footed pile driver that left the goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer with no chance.
The home side continued to press the opposition fully in the knowledge that they needed more to take with them to England. Following a couple of guilt edge chances going abegging, including an open goal, they got their deservedly doubled their advantage.
Just five minutes into the second half, Sormani played a cross towards Prati, the striker got a call from Hamrin, he dummied the ball and the Swede scored despite being tightly marked by his covering defender. The Serie A champions gave nothing away and took that two goal advantage to the away leg.
At Old Trafford, il Diavolo put on a defensive masterclass and despite, a goal from star Booby Charlton in the 70 minute, they held on to advance to the grand final. The Man Utd players shook hands with the Milan players at the end in a show of sportsmanship.
Milan would prove themselves the best in Europe, going on to thoroughly outplay Ajax in the final, to triumph 4-1 and lift the trophy for the second time in their history.
This tie in the mid-noughties came at a special period for Milan. They were managed by former player Carlo Ancelotti and had already won the Champions League, Coppa Italia and the Scudetto in the previous couple of campaigns, along with other trophies. Man Utd on the other hand, had been unsurped as the dominant force in English football by Arsenal and later Chelsea.
Milan's star-studded line-up read like this: Dida-Maldini-Stam-Nesta-Cafu-Pirlo-Gattuso-Seedorf-Kaka-Shevchenko-Crespo. Oh, and they had the likes of Rui Costa, Pippo Inzaghi etc...on the bench. What a team!
They proved there was a gap between the teams, as they won both legs 1-0, with Crespo grabbing both goals. Man Utd though came close at the San Siro, with Ryan Giggs hitting the post, which would have levelled the tie, but that was as close as they got.
Milan made it all the way to the final that year, only to lose to Liverpool in Istanbul in that dramatic encounter.
Two years after their last meeting and Man Utd was about to re-establish themselves in the Premier League, while Milan were at the end of their last great era. It was the semi-finals of the European Cup and the Rossoneri were the only non-English team left.
This clash has gone down in the hallows of arguably the most legendary tie between the clubs. Ancelotti had changed Milan from a 4-2-2-2/4-3-1-2 formation to the much now talked about "Christmas Tree" of 4-3-2-1, with either Alberto Gilardino or Inzaghi up top supported by Kaka and Seedorf behind. Cristiano Ronaldo was by now establishing himself as truly world class and many pundits saw who got the better of the Kaka vs Ronaldo duel, as the "best in the world."
The first leg in Manchester was an end to end classic that thrilled neutrals and had fans of both teams biting their finger-nails with anxiety.
Ronaldo scored the opener after Dida failed to collect a corner that he came out for and it looped over and into the net. It was then the Kaka show! The Brazilian scored a sumptuous double in the space of 15 minutes that gave his team the lead to take to the break.
Firstly, he collected the ball from Seedorf, ran past three opposition defenders and with the perfect placement of a poll player, guided the ball into the far corner past Edwin Van de Sar. The second...was...just...a thing of absolute beauty. The forward collected a long ball, flicked the ball over Gabriel Heinze, nodded it between him and Patrice Evra, leaving the defenders to collide with each other and finished with precision with his right foot.
It was a goal that is still talked about 14 years later and will be forever remembered fondly by Milanisti who were privileged to see it.
Maldini and Gattuso unfortunately had to be subbed off within seven minutes of each other and the encounter changed.
Milan still attacked, but were more vulnerable at the back now. Man Utd sensed that and upped the ante. The home team were rewarded for their efforts, as Wayne Rooney recorded a double, including one right at the end that gave them a 3-2 victory.
Two weeks later though and the now infamous "Perfect Game" was played.
It was pouring buckets of rain in Milano, but the fans turned out in droves and filled "La Scala del Calcio" to the brim to the tune of 80000. The atmosphere created on that early May night was a sight to behold.
Kaka and Seedorf both had great chance within the first eight minutes as the Rossoneri rallied and attacked Man Utd as if the players knew, that was their last great chance at glory. It was the Dutchman and Brazilian that linked up that gave Milan the lead. A long ball from Nesta was headed towards the middle by Seedorf, it found the number 22 and with one swift strike of the ball with his left foot, he powered the ball into the corner.
The tie was now 3-3 and Milan were going through on the away goals rule, so how would the then six times European champions play it? The answer: Attack, attack and attack more.
At the half-hour mark, it was Seedorf's turn to get his name on the score-sheet with a pile driver of a right footed shot that beat his fellow countryman. The away team had no answers, and when Alex Ferguson threw his gum on the ground, he knew his team was well and truly second best. Gilardino added a third to add that icing on top of the cake.
Milan met Liverpool again, but unlike two years previously, held firm, ran out 2-1 winners and claim their seventh and so far last European Cup.
Three years on from their last meeting and Milan, while still a good side were no match for Man Utd and lost the tie 7-2.
So as we get set for another encounter between these two iconic football clubs, let's hope for entertainment, drama and good football in keeping with traditions of the two "Devils."