We’ve waited long enough for the return of Champions League soccer, and it’s finally here! We’ve already seen some impressive games (and results) over the past week, with Liverpool defeating Inter Milan 2-0, City bashing Sporting Lisbon 5-0 and Chelsea prevailing 2-0 over French club Lille. United are the last English club to play the first leg of their first round knockout game, and it’s going to be a big one. Atletico are a good side and even won La Liga last season, so this will be no walk-in-the-park for United in Madrid. What is interesting is that both teams have shown major inconsistency this season when it comes to results, with Atletico sitting in fifth place in La Liga, while United (narrowly) sit in fourth. This is simply poor for a former Champion, as well as a team that has just signed Ronaldo, Sancho and Varane. So how do the teams fare?
Remarkably, this game seems very evenly matched. Atletico have scored 45 goals in the league this season, while United have scored 44. However, with Ronaldo returning to arch-enemies Atletico, he will surely hope to be among the goals this evening. Ronaldo has had a tumultuous relationship with Atletico in the past, taunting them by indicating how he has personally won five Champions League trophies, compared to Atletico’s zero. We all remember how Ronaldo copied Simeone’s ‘interesting’ celebration when Juventus defeated them 3-0, also. Atletico have Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez among the attacking options available tonight, while United have everyone in attack apart from the suspended Mason Greenwood and unfit Edinson Cavani. Despite Atletico’s defensive style, we envisage goals this evening.
Upturn In Form
After a series of draws, United’s fortunes seem to have improved somewhat recently. Successive wins against Brighton and away at Leeds have seen United look like a different side. Where they previously couldn’t take advantage of an early lead, the side seem to have overcome this obstacle. Paul Pogba is now fully back in contention, and clearly the difference maker in midfield, while Bruno Fernandes has rediscovered some of the incredible form of last season that gained him so much positive notoriety. Youngster Anthony Elanga has fully staked his claim to be in and around the first team, consistently making an impact in games as of recently. Additionally, out-of-form Harry Maguire showed an improved performance against Leeds, scoring United’s first corner in a long, long time and showing actual leadership on the pitch.
This may be a bad time for Atletico to come up against the Manchester giants…
Atletico on the other hand can still only be seen as inconsistent. Despite the fact they won 3-0 away at Osasuna at the weekend, we can’t ignore the fact that they lost 1-0 at home to last placed Levante mid-week. Suarez has been out of form this season and linked with moves away, while in the four games prior to Levante, Atletico shipped 11 goals and received a sending off. The side look a shadow of the dominating defensive Simeone-Atletico of the past, and United should look to capitalize.
The Rise of Sancho, Fall of Rashford; Lingard
While Sancho’s performances have only become more impressive the more he plays, Rashford has been poor and has found himself on the bench recently, while Lingard has been largely ostracized from the starting XI this season. Even in the previous game against Leeds; United needed a goal and elected to bring on Elanga rather than Rashford. The point was proven when Elanga went on to score, too. Lingard only made his first league start of the season against Leeds and looks all but certain to leave in the summer. Rashford really needs to pull his socks up and show his worth if he hopes to regain a starting berth in the side.
Correa is perhaps one important player we have overlooked so far. Correa is the top scorer for Atletico this season, scoring 11 in 25 and will certainly be a handful tonight. Correa is pacey and full of trickery, he will certainly be hoping to excuse the flat-footed (at times) Maguire this evening.
Overall, this will certainly be a cagey affair, and if we were to predict an outcome, we see a draw as the most fitting, which we’re sure United will happily return back to Manchester with.