Manchester United return to Champions League action on Wednesday, as they travel to Spain to take on Atletico Madrid in the last 16.
The game will be played at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, a new venue for United, who are yet to play there since the ground opened in 2017. United and Atletico have not faced off since 1991 when the Spanish side beat United over two legs in the now-abolished European Cup Winners Cup.
David de Gea will return to his former club for the first time since he left to join United, in 2011.
Manchester United have now won two consecutive games, after some frustrating 1-1 draws. Last Tuesday, they beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 at Old Trafford, thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes.
Ralf Rangnick’s side then beat Leeds United 2-4 in a memorable trip to Elland Road. Fernandes once again registered a goal, as did United captain Harry Maguire, Fred, and Anthony Elanga. Maguire’s headed goal from Luke Shaw’s corner was United’s first from 140 attempts this season in the league.Embed from Getty Images
Sunday’s game also saw Jadon Sancho register two assists, including an exquisite first time cross for Fernandes’ goal. The 21-year-old now has two goals and two assists in United’s last five games in all competitions.
Atletico Madrid have struggled at times this season, and it is fair to say that their defence of their La Liga title is not going to plan. Diego Simeone’s side currently languishes in fifth place, although they are level on points with Barcelona in fourth, with a game in hand.
Their form of late has been up and down. So far in February, they have played four games, winning two and losing two. Most recently, Atletico beat Osasuna 0-3 away from home in an important game in Pamplona. They were also victorious over Getafe in a thrilling 4-3 game.
However, Atletico were convincingly beaten 4-2 away to Xavi’s Barcelona at the start of the month, as well as tasting defeat at home to Levante last Wednesday.
Manchester United will still be without Edinson Cavani for the trip to Spain. The Uruguay international has not featured for United since their trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley. Cavani has been out with a groin injury, something which has taken longer to heal than expected.
Tom Heaton was not involved against Leeds at the weekend, and he could also miss the game against Atletico on Wednesday. Aside from Cavani and Heaton, United seem to have a clean bill of health.
Raphael Varane was named as a substitute against Leeds at the weekend after illness kept him out of the game against Brighton last week. Both Maguire and Victor Lindelof put in impressive performances on Sunday, so a tough decision could face Rangnick if he decides to bring Varane back into the side.Embed from Getty Images
Over the last couple of days, media reports from Spain have suggested Atletico Madrid’s training sessions have heavily focussed on their starting eleven for the game this week. Neither Antione Griezmann nor Luis Suarez trained with the apparent line-up, so there is a chance that neither will be starting on Wednesday night.
The Spanish side will be without Matheus Cunha, Daniel Wass, and Yannick Carrasco. Atletico captain Koke is also missing for the last 16 clash after finishing their match against Osasuna with discomfort, a big blow for the hosts in midfield. Thomas Lemar will only be available should be test negative for Covid-19.
Ones to watch
If there is one man Atletico Madrid will not be looking forward to seeing on Wednesday, it is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugal captain has a phenomenal record against Simeone’s team; in 35 games against Atletico, Ronaldo has scored 25 goals and has nine assists to his name.
In the Champions League, he has put seven past Atletico and has three assists. Three of those goals were scored in one match for Juventus, to complete an extraordinary second-leg comeback in 2019. Ronaldo also scored the decisive penalty for Real Madrid in the 2015/16 final, against their cross-city rivals.
Meanwhile, his knockout record in Europe is unbelievable. The five-time winner has the most knockout goals (67) and assists (17) in the competition’s history according to transfermarkt.
For United this season, Ronaldo has scored in every Champions League game he has played in. With six goals in five games, including two away to Atalanta, he is United’s top goal scorer in the competition this season.
Ronaldo is a player made for this tie. He has an exemplary record against Atletico across his career, and he thrives in the Champions League, especially in games as big as this. On Wednesday, Ronaldo will certainly be one of Atletico’s biggest threats and will be no doubt looking to increase his tally against Simeone’s side.Embed from Getty Images
One of Atletico’s most dangerous players is attacker Ángel Correa. The Argentine international has been at the club since 2015 when he made the move to Europe from San Lorenzo. This season, Correa has 12 goals and five assists in all competitions; only one of those came in the Champions League, against FC Porto.
A versatile player, Correa has had success from both the right-wing and in a central role this season, and he will be looking to add to his goals in Europe this week. He is someone United certainly need to be cautious of on Wednesday night.
David de Gea;
Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw;
Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba;
Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho
A big night ahead
Manchester United will be looking to make a statement to the rest of the Champions League on Wednesday night. A win away from home, especially if it is by multiple goals, will send out a message of intent to the rest of the competition.
United have some big-game players. Ronaldo is arguably the greatest player of all time, Raphael Varane has won the Champions League four times with Real Madrid, and the likes of Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and Paul Pogba are players who excel on the biggest stage. This, coupled with talent including Sancho and Anthony Elanga, is certainly an exciting prospect.
Ultimately, United are in this competition to win it. They have players who are made for games like this, and competitions like this. Wednesday’s game in Madrid will hopefully begin a successful run in the Champions League knockout rounds.