Manchester United visit Atletico Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano in what has progressed out to be the trickiest game to be predicted by Pundits all over the Footballing world in the Champions League Round of 16 tie. So many things are hitting different for both the teams this season as compared to what was displayed last season. For instance – ATM conceding 34 goals in La Liga already (25 games) as compared to 25 goals conceded in entire last season, Jan Oblak conceding 34 goals from an xG conceded of just 22.77 showing his worst season stats since he wore the red and white colours, The defending Spanish Champions losing to bottom ranked Levante on Home Turf and currently sitting at 5th place.
Manchester United on the other hand have their own complications. Defence getting caught on sleep many a times (Shaw against Rapinha on weekend for Leeds 2nd goal as instance), struggle against low blocks, poor finishing despite excellent chance creation stats especially Ronaldo’s disability to finish off the Big Chances and Premier League runners up struggling to maintain a Top 4 place, the season of United could very well depend on how they represent themselves the coming matchday in Spain.
Preview for Atletico Madrid – When fans used to think of ATM they used to think a defensively compact team that maintains a low block and plays on counters, an extremely tough nut to crack while in their final 3rd. This season this has changed drastically with Simeone accepting the fact that he still hasn’t found the right setup to achieve favorable results. The defending champions are conceding a lot which once used to be their strength, but on the brighter side ATM have offensively shown way more promise than before. They look more natural during build ups and have the ability to score out of nowhere with some of the best attacking names under Suarez, Joao Felix, Angel Correa, Carrasco, Llorente. They’ve picked their form at the right time too knocking off Osasuna 3-0 last weekend in a crucial league fixture keeping their Top 4 finish hopes alive, Jan Oblak seemed to pick up his drowning run as well as ATM kept a clean sheet away from home for the 1st time since last MAY. Add Antoine Griezmann’s return from hamstring injury, if ATM can trigger their defensive duties well it can be a night to remember for hosts who so many times are haunted by the Talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Predicted 11 (3-5-2) – Usually going with a 4-4-2, Simeone has preferred some alternates this season especially in CL matches to try and nullify the wing threats of oppositions. Against AC Milan in a similar formation to United he went with a 3-5-2 set up to try and maintain defensive superiority with the help of wingbacks, with Sancho starting to Cook on Left Wing side and United having speedy counterparts on right side as well in Rashford and Elanga he is expected to use the same formation again.
Oblak (GK), Hermoso (CB), Gimenez (CB), Savic (CB), Reinildo (LWB), Hector Herrera (CM), Kondogbia (CM) ,Koke (CM), Llorente (RWB), Suarez (ST), Joao Felix (ST).
Notable snubs – Carrasco (Red Card), Lemar (Covid 19 doubtful), Cunha (Knee Injury)
Preview for Manchester United – One word to describe Reds ? Unpredictable. They can force Chelsea to drop points against them but then themselves drop points against Burnley and even lose to 2nd tier Middlesbrough. A thumping win against Leeds 4-2 looked dark under the shadows when United bottled a 2 goal lead within 2 minutes but Rangnick’s smart and gutsy subs made sure United come out on top in this must win encounter. Sancho assisted twice in the best game of his PL career with United while Paul Pogba showed his class yet again. Though Cristiano Ronaldo not being in a good goalscoring form, The Champions League anthem with Atletico as oppositions is something he has thrived on so many times. Covering their defensive loopholes might be the biggest challenge for United away from home especially with Luis Suarez still possessing that class and always ready to bank his Gamesmanship spirits to change the outcome of the game. Though on a brighter side, United have created plenty of chances in the games played and Rangnick’s tactics are finally seeming to have a positive impact on the club. Most of 1st team players barring Cavani are ready to unleash. But can the big game horses like Ronaldo, Bruno, Pogba step up when the lights are shining the brightest? Only time will have an answer.
Predicted 11 (4-2-3-1) – To give Bruno the free role of chance creation, Rangnick has gone with this setup as Ronaldo the sole striker and Sancho with Rashford/ Elanga unleashing on counter attacks. Expecting the same setup yet again vs Atletico Madrid which can be transformed to a 4-3-3 as well given the situation of match with Bruno helping out defensively to double pivot of McTominay and Pogba. Aaron Wan Bissaka returned vs Leeds as well and showed his mastery of defensive workrate is still clear of Dalot, intercepting 4 times and succeeding 2/3 tackles which may prove huge against Atletico in Wanda Metropolitano. Raphael Varane returned from stomach cramps as well against Leeds in 85th minute and showed he was ready to play vs ATM.
De Gea (GK), Wan Bissaka (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LB), McTominay (CM), Pogba (CM), Fernandes (CAM), Sancho (RW), Rashford (LW), Ronaldo (ST)
Notable snubs – Edinson Cavani (Groin Injury)
Prediction – United have big game players on their side and they definitely know to thrive in Champions League matches. Ronaldo has 6 goals in 5 games and the team has responded very well when being against the wall in Champions League this season. With an abundance of chance creators and ATM’s defensive core being shaky we expect the visitors to have an upper hand in this.
Atletico Madrid (1) – Manchester United (2)