Manchester United are back in the UEFA Champions League, where they face Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side. Now this will probably be ugly. Alex Bowers described it as a battle between a ‘Turd Sandwich and a Giant Douche’. There isn’t much to debate on that.
Both sides have been horribly inconsistent this season & put in some utterly rubbish performances. However, they’ve picked up some ounce of form in recent weeks – meaning this probably at least won’t be an absolute snoozefest.
But with United struggling to convert chances & Atletico having the reputation for producing the most infuriating negative, defensive football at the Wanda Metropolitano – this could be a cagey game. Ralf Rangnick hopes his side can find their ruthlessness to get a positive result back to Old Trafford.
Atletico Madrid Likely XI
Oblak, Vrsaljko, Savic, Gimenez, Lodi, Llorente, Koke, Herrera, Felix, Suarez, Griezmann
Atleti will miss some key players, with Yannick Carrasco & Felipe suspended. Daniel Wass & Matheus Cunha are injured, while Thomas Lemar’s a doubt.
Manchester United Likely XI
De Gea, Dalot, Varane, Maguire, Telles, Fred, McTominay, Pogba, Bruno, Sancho, Ronaldo
Edinson Cavani remains a doubt for United.
Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United UCL Round of 16 Leg 1 Preview
Drawing Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16 re-draw was probably among the things Man United really didn’t want. Simeone’s side can be a real pain in the butt for even the most prolific attacking teams (just ask Liverpool).
They’re facing an Atletico side that have struggled and shipped a lot of goals in 2022, but their core system is still intact. Atleti are like the rich man’s Burnley in Europe, often deploying an overly defensive style with more than half their team defending.
Simeone’s side isn’t one to grant too many chances to team as they maintain a sturdy shape. This is a worrying sign for United, who have struggled to properly capitalize on chances in recent games – needing too many bites of the cherry to seal results.
Rangnick will urge his side to continue with their possession-based, attacking style but hopes some of his superstars can make the difference. Fortunately for him, United possesses Mr. Champions League himself in Cristiano Ronaldo.
He’s also been an ever-bearing nightmare for Atletico, having scored 25 goals in 35 appearances against them in his career. Who can forget his hat trick vs Atleti to knock them out of the UCL in the 2018/19 season?
But Cristiano has to rediscover that clutch nature in himself to excel. He’s put in some poor performances in 2022 so far & needs to find that ruthlessness to torment Atleti again. Fortunately for CR7, those around him are improving.
Bruno Fernandes seems to be excelling in his current role, as he’s back to creating big chances & also scoring goals more consistently. He’ll aim to find Ronaldo with his clever passes into the area but also aim to continue his goal-scoring run.
Jadon Sancho also has his swagger back and has finally found a rhythm at United. With his impressive dribbling skills, clever forward passes & incisiveness, he can be key in breaking Atletico’s defensive shape. Paul Pogba should play in a more advanced role.
The Frenchman seems to be thriving in Rangnick’s system, carrying the ball forward seamlessly and creating big chances every now & then. He’ll be tasked to continue that, but also put in defensive work to help his side. Fred & Scott McTominay should be tasked to hold down the fort in midfield, regain possession & get the ball forward swiftly in the counter-attacks.
United might dominate possession, but need to be absolutely decisive in the final third to unnerve the Atletico backline – which possesses daunting figures like Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic & impressive goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
While they possess a reputation for their defensive fortitude, Atleti possesses some top-quality attacking stars. Antoine Griezmann should be back for this one & everyone knows his ability. The Frenchman’s impressive link-up play, creativity & excellent finishing ability makes him a huge threat.
Then there’s one Luis Suarez too. The ex-Liverpool striker has haunted United many times in the past and still has some tricks up his sleeve. With his clever movement & deft finishing, he’s guaranteed to trouble them.
Joao Felix is finally finding his feet at Atleti. His clever dribbling ability, incisiveness & work inside the box make him a big threat too. Adding to that, Marcos Llorente is like a jack of all trades in midfield – while Koke & Hector Herrera add the bite to help them keep a solid shape.
The Red Devils have struggled defensively through this season. Harry Maguire comes off an impressive outing vs Leeds and has to be alert in counter-attacking situations to frustrate the hosts. Raphael Varane’s played against Atletico many times in his career, as he aims to utilize his composure & game-reading ability to frustrate Suarez & co.
Diogo Dalot & Alex Telles need to be on their toes throughout, being proactive on the wings to nullify Atleti’s threat and also try to create chances going forward. David de Gea, a former Atletico player, must be at his sharpest to keep out the potential barrage of shots on his goal at the Wanda Metropolitano.
As noted earlier, don’t expect a classic here. It’ll probably be a frustrating game because of how inconsistent these two sides have been this season. United just need to ensure they’re defensively strong enough to counter Atleti’s attacking threat & finish off chances more clinically to go into the second leg in a strong position.
So I had predicted a 1-0 win for Atletico in our UCL leg-1 games’ predictions. But I’ll just slightly tweak that now. I still think United will lose, but can see them scoring. So I’ll predict a 2-1 win for Atleti.