Manchester United return to UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday evening as they travel to face Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid in the round of 16 first leg match. United will be seeking to reach the quarter finals this season.
Gone are the away goals in the competition this season, so there will be no main advantage with the second leg tie being played at Old Trafford, so 180 minutes of football should decide the winner of this tie, although extra time and penalties could be a decider, if needed.
Ralf Rangnick’s side kept their form against Leeds United at Elland Road on Sunday, scoring two goals before the end of the first half, but collapsing in the opening ten minutes of the second half, before finding the lead again, then a fourth goal.
United will need to show this same mentality against Atletico Madrid to earn their place in the draw for the quarter final stage of the competition, which is not going to be an easy feat. This is United’s only chance for silverware this season and it could be a slim chance at that.
Previous meetings with Atletico Madrid and their connections with United.
United and Atletico have met twice in European competition. United have failed to beat their Spanish opposition in those matches, losing 3-0 in the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup second round first leg in Madrid, drawing 1-1 in the second leg at Old Trafford.
United have scored just one goal, conceding four and keeping no clean sheets. Atletico have scored four goals, conceded one, keeping one clean sheet. That was back in 1991 and it is a surprise that the two teams had not met since then. This will be David De Gea’s first trip to his former club.
Quinton Fortune, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao and David De Gea are the only four players to have played for both United and Atletico. Just two of those players were transfers between the two clubs, the others had transferred to/from United and Atletico from elsewhere.
In the summer of 1999, Fortune signed for United from Atletico for £1.5 million. In the summer of 2011, De Gea signed for United for £18.9 million. Forlan played for United from 2002-04, signing for Atletico from 2007-11. Falcao played for Atletico from 2011-13 and United from 2014-15.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea will be proud to start against the club where he started his career and in almost 11 years at United, this will be the first time he has had the chance to face the Spanish club. He is still the key to United being on top but his defence need to match him at all times.
In the last two matches, United have seemingly turned a corner – but we have been there before. The squad has shown that they can come back, especially after the Leeds match and the two goals they scored just after the break. United fought for the victory.
De Gea is the difference in this team. He is one of the few players that have been at the club under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson and will understand what is needed for the club to rediscover the success they once had. United should be back on the road to success by now though.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
Diogo Dalot needs to start at right-back once more. Aaron Wan-Bissaka returned against Leeds but he was probably one of the weakest players on the pitch. His confidence has gone and his form with it. Luke Shaw was not seen heading to Madrid, so Alex Telles could start on the left?
Raphael Varane was on the bench against Leeds, probably because of the illness he suffered ahead of the Brighton match and therefore not being fit enough to start. His did make a cameo ahead of this important match so Champions League Varane should start.
Harry Maguire has seemingly rediscovered his form, scoring the opening goal against Leeds on Sunday and having a good game, both defensively and offensively. Hopefully this is the start of a long period of good form for the captain, who had been terrible of late.
Midfield Three: Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes has been a frustrated figure of late but against Leeds he shone through and has a positive performance which helped give United a positive result, despite a scare after half time. He needs to keep his place in this team as United need his hard work and creativity.
Paul Pogba is one of the best players at the club right now, especially in the midfield. He should start this match as he needs to start getting full match fitness ahead of the remainder of the season. He tires in the second half, but United have other options. He could be the difference.
Scott McTominay is not a player who has (so far) been confirmed as a player who has travelled to Madrid. He might have been on the flight. Nemanja Matic has been out of action for some time and could slot in and give the Scotland international a break ahead of Saturday’s match.
Forwards: Anthony Elanga, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho
Cristiano Ronaldo did not score against Leeds, but his participation in the match was positive. He will be seeking to score more goals in the Champions League this season and has previously done very well against Atletico – he could and should score in this match.
Jadon Sancho got himself two assists against Leeds and has been one of the best players in the squad this month, which is good to see. It finally looks like he has settled and has the confidence to shine, so all those who wrote him off should be red faced right now.
Anthony Elanga showed massive positivity against Leeds when he replaced Jesse Lingard, who had literally no impact in the match. The young Swedish forward has a great future ahead of him and seems determined to get his foot in the door this season.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson, Tom Heaton; Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Scott McTominay, Hannibal Mejbri; Marcus Rashford
United will have up to five substitutes in this match, which should enable Rangnick to rotate the squad in time for Saturday’s Premier League cash with Watford – the club that beat United and saw the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as the manager of the club.
Dean Henderson and Tom Heaton seem to have travelled to Madrid, so will be available. Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw could all be available too. In midfield, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Scott McTominay and Hannibal Mejbri could be called upon.
Marcus Rashford might be the only attacking player on the bench with Edinson Cavani still not fit to rejoin the playing squad. That said, the likes of Mata, Lingard and Hannibal will supplement the attacking line, if they are given opportunities.
Written by John Walker