Atlético Madrid and Manchester United will meet in European competition on Wednesday for the first time in the 21st century.
Atlético (Group B runners-up) are hosting a Champions League knockout game at the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time in over two years. Under Diego Simeone, the Rojiblancos were once imposing when playing at home in Europe — but Atleti did not win a single home match in this season’s group stage. Atleti’s last home victory in this competition came against RB Salzburg in October 2020.
“I live day to day, you (in the media) are there to evaluate our work,” Simeone said Tuesday. “We must work, we cannot stop to think about what we have done in the past because what happened yesterday is worthless. Only the game-by-game counts.”
Like Atlético, Manchester United (Group F winners) have had a difficult 2021/22 season on and off the pitch. These teams have similar strengths (such as electric playmaking talent) and similar weaknesses (like defensive uncertainty), which could produce an intriguing and entertaining tie over two legs.
But United also have Cristiano Ronaldo, a longtime nemesis whose teams have eliminated Atlético at each Champions League knockout stage — the last 16 (2019), the quarterfinals (2015), the semifinals (2017), and the final itself (2014 and 2016). Atleti’s defense kept its first clean sheet in nearly six weeks over the weekend and must be up for the challenge of stopping the 37-year-old superstar.
“The clean sheet against Osasuna was something very important for us after so many games (without one) because it gives us confidence for the future,” Stefan Savić told the media Tuesday.
As usual, Atlético will be missing multiple players entering a huge game. Captain Koke has a hamstring injury and was officially ruled out Tuesday morning. Yannick Carrasco is suspended, while Matheus Cunha and Daniel Wass still have weeks to go before they are ready to return from their injuries.
Simeone received a boost in that Thomas Lemar will be able to play after overcoming COVID-19, and Antoine Griezmann is expected to receive his first minutes since Jan. 6. On the other touchline, Ralf Rangnick confirmed Tuesday that forward Edinson Cavani would miss out on the trip to Madrid.
“There are other players we have who want to play and who have been looking forward to this opportunity,” Simeone responded when asked about the absences. “We will play a game where we believe we can hurt United.”
“(The state of the team) is very good, we know that the Champions League is different and it’s a beautiful competition that everyone wants to play in,” Savić said. “We’re very united, and let’s see if we get a good result.”
Date Feb. 23, 2022
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST
SB Nation opposition blog The Busby Babe