Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli says the Italian giants, like Manchester United, are seeking to return to the “highest level” as they prepare to do battle in the second-tier Europa League.

The clubs, with a combined 10 European Cups between them, are well set for a return to the Champions League next season, with both second in their domestic leagues.

Whoever wins their blockbuster last-16 tie will be among the favourites to win the Europa League, but Pioli rejected suggestions the final had come early, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Ajax and Roma also still in the competition.

“I don’t think it’s an early final in the sense that there are still plenty of very, very good teams left in the tournament, but of course it is a prestigious tie when it came out of the hat, there’s no doubt about that,” said Pioli at his pre-match press conference ahead of Thursday’s first-leg in Manchester.

“We’re two teams with a lot of tradition, a lot of history in Europe and for us, we want to work hard and try to realise our dreams and go back to winning at the highest possible level.”

Milan defender Fikayo Tomori is back in England after an impressive start to his loan spell from Chelsea.

The 23-year-old has earned rave reviews from one of the greatest defenders of all time, Paolo Maldini, who is now Milan’s sporting director.

“Obviously it’s very nice to hear that from one of, if not the, greatest defenders to have played the game,” said Tomori.

“It’s a good feeling and to hear something like this obviously gives me confidence, but I just want to carry on doing what I’m doing that’s got me to this stage and go even further.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be making a return to Old Trafford as the veteran Swedish striker is one of a number of key injury absentees for both sides.

The Italians also travelled without Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ante Rebic, and Mario Mandzukic.

United are missing David de Gea, Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba, with Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani also doubts.