Manchester United’s return to Europe’s Premier club competition this week. The Red Devils travel to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid to face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Round of 16.
United’s record in the Champions League has been a reflection of their domestic form in the last decade. Since they were beaten by Barcelona in the final at Wembley, Manchester United have only had three appearances in the knockout phases of the competition. Two of those have been in the round of 16s, and just the one in the quarter finals.
Now, they go again. United are nowhere close to being favourites to win the competition but it now remains their only chance to win some silverware.
Manchester United’s Return to Champions League Starts Tough Run of Fixtures
They find themselves in fourth spot in the Premier League, and are battling with four other teams to play with Europe’s best clubs’ next season. A win over arch rivals Leeds United has strengthened their position, but there’s a long way to go, and a tough run of fixtures await them. Starting with this trip to Madrid.
That’s a daunting set of fixtures, and will be Ralf Rangnick’s biggest test since he took over as the interim manager from Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer. While Manchester United look for a new manager, his first test from a long list of test starts Wednesday, February 23rd.
Manchester United in Spain
Manchester United have not had the best of times in Spain. Apart from that one time when they had the time of their lives when they won the treble in Barcelona, Spain. The Catalans may have a different view on that.
In 64 matches against Spanish opposition, Manchester United have only won 18 matches, drawing 24, and losing 22 games. That’s a win percentage of 28%.
This will be Manchester United’s first visit to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium after Atletico Madrid moved from the Vicente Calderón Stadium in 2017. Manchester United have never beaten Atletico Madrid in their history, albeit they have only played them twice. That was way back in 1991. Eight of the current set of Manchester United players were toddlers when that happened. Rest were not even born.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Atletico Madrid
One player who knows a lot about Atletico Madrid is Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s also very infamously well known in that part of Madrid having inflicted a lot of pain to Rojiblancos during his time playing for Los Blancos. Another time playing for The Old Lay of Juventus.
Atletico Madrid have never won a Champions League tie against a team featuring Ronaldo. He has bagged 25 goals against Diego Simeone’s side. That includes four hat-tricks, and nine assists. Diego Simeone is well aware what the Portuguese superstar is capable of.
It’s hard to disagree that United wouldn’t even be in the last 16 if it wasn’t for Ronaldo, who netted six times in the group stage, including some late goals that helped United stage some fine comebacks.
David de Gea returns to Atletico Madrid
It will not only be Manchester United’s first visit to the Wanda Metropolitano, but also for Atletico Madrid’s former prodigal son, David de Gea.
David de Gea came through the youth system at Atletico Madrid, and was part of the Atletico Madrid team that starred the likes of Diego Forlan, and Sergio Aguero. The same team that won the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup in 2010.
His performances attracted many, but he signed for Manchester United in June 2011 for £18.9 million, a British record for a goalkeeper at the time. Since then, De Gea has cemented his place in the United squad, and among the United folklore. While Manchester United have struggled to keep up as the best in England/Europe, De Gea has performed at his peak for most of the last decade, saving Manchester United from falling further down the grace.
Having been a successful prodigy, it’s unlikely he will be welcomed with open arms by those who wear the red and white of Atletico Madrid. His desire to move to Real Madrid is now in the past, but it was no secret. His performances for the Spanish National Team at times have been woeful. Especially in the 2018 World Cup which was probably the lowest time in his career for both club and country.
De Gea recently opened up on his return to Madrid, and how he might never leave Manchester United. In an interview with UEFA, he said:
“I like the fact I was born in Madrid, but at the end of the day, it’s just a city. Now I feel as if I’m from Manchester; I just feel like anyone else from Manchester. Where you are loved and welcomed is your home. I’ve been here for many years and, obviously, anything can happen in life, in the world of football, but honestly I don’t see myself away from Manchester United. Of course, I’m going back home [for this tie], I’m going back to the club that gave me the opportunity to be who I am today.”
Atletico Madrid and Manchester United’s Season So Far
Both Atletico Madrid and Manchester United have had a torrid season. Both find themselves in places they did not expect to be in at the start of the season.
Atletico Madrid are the current La Liga Champions but find themselves in fifth place in the league, 15 points behind league leaders, and arch rivals, Real Madrid. They are level on points with fourth placed Barcelona. They have also let in 34 goals already, which is very unlike a team coached by Diego Simeone.
Antoine Greizmann returned to Atletico Madrid but has struggled to find a starting place, and is unlikely to start against Manchester United. They lost Keiran Trippier to Newcastle United in this winter transfer window, and are trying to get things in order at the back.
Atletico Madrid go into this game on the back of a win against Osasuna, but they were nowhere close to their best. Atletico would need to up their game, and tempo when Manchester United come to town.
Manchester United have their own troubles. After finishing second in the league, and second in the Europa League final last season, they were expected to push on for major honours this season. That expectation went through the roof when the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, and then Cristiano Ronaldo walked through the doors at Carrington. Instead, they are 17 points behind Manchester City, and battling with the likes of West Ham, Wolves, Spurs, and Arsenal to finish fourth. A huge downgrade from what was expected.
They do go into this game after battling an energetic Leeds United. Perhaps the best preparation they would have wanted before they go into what could be a hostile Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday.
It’s going to be starry night this week, and both sets of fans will be eager to see what their teams do on the pitch.