Manchester United face their biggest match this season with Atletico Madrid heading to Old Trafford on Tuesday evening in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg. The two teams drew 1-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano almost three weeks ago.
It was Anthony Elanga’s late strike which cancelled out João Félix’s opening goal early in the match. With away goals ruled out this will be a crucial match for United’s season, being that a top four finish this season is unlikely with Arsenal having three matches in hand and being a pint ahead now.
United will need to qualify for the UEFA Champions League as the winners of the competition to play in it next season, unless Arsenal and Chelsea collapse in their final matches of the season, which would seem likely of Arsenal – but their current form is better than is has been.
Failing that, United will either play in the UEFA Europa League or the UEFA Europa Conference League, which would mean a much tougher 2022/23 season for them. United will need to win their remaining matches in the Premier League to enhance their chances of a top four finish.
Previous meetings with Atletico and their connections with United.
United and Atletico have met three times 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 and three weeks ago.
United have scored just two goals, conceding five 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 is an important match for United.
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 Old Trafford on Tuesday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has great experience in the Champions League and will be seeking to help United gain a place in the quarter final of the competition this season. Granted, when his defence is to the best, which can happen any day, it could all fall apart for United.
That said, he is the best goalkeeper, based on form, at the club right now and has the knowledge of the opposition being his former club. Granted, his former teammates are no longer there but it is kind of an advantage in this respect. United need to be strong.
With De Gea in goal, United have a good player to keep the backs of the defence, however, the defence need to show him a performance that he will be proud of. Atletico will throw all they have at United and the defence will need to be the best they have ever been.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Harry Magire, Alex Telles
United’s defence needs to be at the best of their game against Atletico. They conceded an early goal in the last match against them and will need to be wary of their attacking power. Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles should keep their places with Luke Shaw just back from almost a week out.
The fullbacks can provide some attacking width and both do this well. However, Atletico will have that same threat against United. Raphaël Varane should keep his place as the Champions League is a competition that he has a lot of experience playing in, and winning.
Harry Maguire is a player that is under a lot of pressure at United this season. It is sometimes working for him but most of the time it is not. He scored an own goal against Spurs, which might not have stood on another day. He knows what he has to do in this match if he plays it.
Midfield Three: Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes
United’s midfield is strong on paper but some of the time it does not work as perhaps it should. Scott McTominay should return after sitting out the match with Spurs, which keeps him fresh for this match. On his day, he can offer a lot in the midfield.
Paul Pogba did not really do much against Spurs, playing in the advance midfield role. Perhaps in this match, McTominay playing as a number six with both Pogba and Bruno Fernandes playing as the number eights could give United a lot more creativity, as long as players help defend.
Fernandes missed the Spurs match, giving him a rest, which is something that he needs to end the season in style. United and Fernandes will be seeking to make their stay in the Champions League last longer, which is a good chance to play in the competition next season.
Forwards: Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Elanga
United’s attacking line is great on paper, but much like the rest of the team – it has not always worked but on Saturday against Spurs, it did. Cristiano Ronaldo is a great player to start in this match after scoring another hat-trick in his career – could he do it again?
Jadon Sancho should start, playing on the right-wing which is his favoured position. He can provide some good balls into the box, also cut in an threaten the goals himself. He is a great young player and full of confidence after a turbulent start to his career at United.
Anthony Elanga is a player who saved United in the first leg of this match and he could be a player that helps United get the result they need. He is not really fazed by other teams or players and just continues to do what he does on the pitch. He’s definitely ahead of Marcus Rashford right now.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Nemanja Matic; Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani
Ralf Rangnick will need to have enough firepower on the bench in this match, which is what United have with no players on the sidelines through injury. Dean Henderson is expected to be on the bench once again with De Gea starting as he is in much better form.
In defence, Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could provide a different game plan if that is needed. In the midfield, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred and Nemanja Matic could all be called on, if some reinforcement in the midfield is needed – and it will be.
With up to five substitutes being used in this match, Rangnick should opt to use them as keeping fresh legs on the pitch will be needed. In an attacking sense, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani could be called on, with the latter the best option in this sense, even if he has been out for a month.
Written by John Walker