It’s the second week of the Round of 16 ties in the UEFA Champions League and Manchester United travel to the Wanda Metropolitano to take on Atletico Madrid in the first leg. The Red Devils will be looking to continue their winning form with 2 wins in their last 2 games and will be looking to upset the hosts who come into the game on the back of a comfortable 3-0 win away at Osasuna. The Rojiblancos aren’t having their best seasons this season with them being in 5th place in the La Liga standings 15 points behind neighbours and arch-rivals Real Madrid in 1st place. Diego Simeone has come under a lot of scrutiny for the recent results specifically after the 4-2 loss against 10 men FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Let’s take a look at how the sides have fared this season in their respective leagues and the team news for the crucial clash in Spain.
WHEN & WHERE?
Venue – Wanda Metropolitano.
Date – Wednesday 23rd February 2022.
Time – 8 PM GMT.
After the mid-season sacking of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ralf Rangnick has been appointed as the interim head coach until the end of the season with a consultancy role offered for the next 2 seasons. Since the appointment, United have had a mixed bag of results and are placed 4th in the league having played 3 games more than their top 4 rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The German manager has implemented a 4-2-2-2 system in which players like Diogo Dalot, Fred, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga have emerged as breakthrough stars. Having had 2 consecutive victories, the Red Devils come into the game looking to continue their winning streak and come back to Manchester with a good result.
Probable XI – David De Gea, Dalot, Maguire, Varane, Shaw, Fred, Pogba, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Diego Simeone’s men will be looking to keep aside their domestic form and turn their attention to Europe wherein they have reached 2 UCL finals in the last decade which have both ended in a loss to their neighbours Real Madrid. Having a good run in the Champions League seems to be the only achievable target after being knocked out of the Copa Del Rey in the round of 16 and being virtually out of the title race in La Liga with 15 points to make up for in the remaining 13 games. Known for having one of the best defences in Europe, Atletico Madrid haven’t been up to the mark defensively after conceding 34 goals this season in 25 games alone after conceding 25 goals last season wherein they won the La Liga. A world-class attack consisting of Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford etc. might be too difficult to contain for Atletico Madrid however according to Manchester Evening News, a 5 man defence was used by Simeone in the training sessions which might be a move to stop the attacking threat of the Red Devils and looking to capitalize on counter-attacking opportunities.
Probable XI – Jan Oblak, Lodi, Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso, Vrsaljko, Koke, Herrera, Kondogbia, Felix, Suarez.
Players to look out for
The 5 times UCL winner will be looking to score against his bitter rivals having already scored 25 goals in 35 games. He has faced Atletico Madrid the most number of times in his career and scoring on Tuesday will certainly be on the cards for the Portuguese striker. Last time out, Ronaldo scored a hattrick in the second leg of the Round of 16 and sent Atletico out of the competition 3-2 on aggregate. The circumstances will certainly be different this time but a similar performance cannot be ruled out for Ronaldo who has a reputation for coming in the clutch in the knockout stages of the UCL.
The English winger who was bought from Borussia Dortmund in the summer hasn’t lived up to the hefty price tag of 81.5 million pounds. Though a recent turnaround in performances under Rangnick has reminded the critics of his high potential. He has fit in perfectly on the left-wing of the 4-2-2-2 formation and has 1 goal and 2 assists in his last 3 games with the 2 assists coming in the last match where Manchester United defeated their old rivals Leeds United 4-2 in a thrilling contest. The skill and dribbling capability of Sancho will be a thorn in Atletico’s defence and his ability to take on his man one on one will be a problem for the Atletico Madrid right back.
The Portuguese playmaker has certainly not had the impact he was expected to have at Atletico Madrid having arrived from Benfica for a whopping fee of 126 million euros. The 22-year-old has scored 3 goals and assisted 3 times for the Rojiblancos in 17 games in the La Liga season and will look to find the net against Manchester United who have looked shaky in defence. His playmaking skills and partnership with Luis Suarez will be important if Atletico are to score in this game at home in front of their supporters.