Manchester United will make the trip to Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday evening looking to claim an advantage in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid.
The Red Devils finished top of Group F to advance to the knockout round of the competition, while Atletico claimed second spot in Group B behind Liverpool to ensure that they would be present at this stage.
Atletico will enter Wednesday’s contest off the back of a 3-0 win over Osasuna in La Liga, with Joao Felix, Luis Suarez and Angel Correa on the scoresheet, but there is no getting away from the fact that the Spanish champions have disappointed in the league this term.
Indeed, Diego Simeone’s side are currently down in fifth spot in the table, 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid, so the Champions League is their only realistic chance of silverware this term, and they might need to win the competition to secure a position in next season’s leading European cup competition.
Atletico were far from convincing in the group stage of the 2021-22 Champions League, winning just two of their six matches against Liverpool, Porto and AC Milan, but a 3-1 victory over Porto on the final matchday moved them onto seven points and allowed them to finish second in the section behind Liverpool.
The Red and Whites have only faced Man United on one previous occasion, tackling them in the second round of the 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup, with the Spanish outfit winning 4-1 on aggregate, but they twice lost to English opposition – Liverpool – in the group stages of this season’s Champions League.
Atletico also lost to Chelsea in last season’s round of 16, but they have reached the quarter-finals or better in five of their last eight Champions League campaigns under Simeone, while the capital giants have been victorious in nine of their 12 two-legged knockout contests against English clubs.
Manchester United’s Harry Maguire celebrates scoring their first goal with Jesse Lingard on February 20, 2022© Reuters
Man United, meanwhile, will enter the contest off the back of a 4-2 win over Leeds United on Sunday, with Fred and Anthony Elanga coming off the bench to secure a vital three points for the Red Devils, who sit fourth in the table, four points clear of West Ham United on the same number of matches (26).
The 20-time English champions have picked up big wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds in their last two but will now switch their attention to the Champions League and will be aware of the importance of picking up a positive first-leg result ahead of the return match at Old Trafford next month.
Man United finished top of Group F to advance to this stage, collecting 11 points from their six matches, with Cristiano Ronaldo coming up with some incredibly important goals to help send his team into the knockout round of the competition for the first time since the 2018-19 campaign.
The Red Devils, who are two-time winners of the Champions League, beat Paris Saint-Germain at this stage of the 2018-19 competition, but they failed to make it through the group stage last term, ultimately dropping into the Europa League, reaching the final before losing to Villarreal.
The Premier League giants have won seven of their previous 11 round-of-16 ties, while they are in the knockout round for the 19th time – an English record – but the club have not managed to make the final of the competition since 2011, and it will be fascinating to see what Ralf Rangnick can deliver this season.