Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 at home to Manchester United in the first leg Round of 16 fixture in the Champions League as a late equaliser from Anthony Elanga cancelled out Joao Felix’s early strike.
⏰ RESULTS ⏰
🔴 Substitute Elanga nets Manchester United equaliser in Madrid
🦅 Yaremchuk earns resurgent Benfica draw
🔮 Predict who'll go through…#UCL
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 23, 2022
The visitors were not at the gates at kickoff and the opening few exchanges set the tone for the match. Atletico nearly took the lead in the third minute after a very poor give-away by Bruno Fernandes inside his box to Angel Correa. He cut the ball back to his strike partner Joao Felix but Victor Lindelof was active enough to get the block in.
Fernandes again gave away the ball a couple of minutes later, near the halfway line and the complete lack of organisation allowed Felix to get away another shot but this one went well wide. It was third time lucky for the Portuguese who gave Atleti a well deserved lead in the seventh minute.
🔥 GOAL! 🔥
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) February 23, 2022
It was a collective failure once more from Rangnick’s side – David de Gea gave the ball away, there was no midfield presence allowing Renan Lodi acres of space, Marcus Rashford did not track back and Harry Maguire had no clue where Felix was. To Atleti’s credit, the cross from Lodi and the header from Felix were well-thought and brilliantly executed.
United started to get more of the ball but all 11 players looked like Bambi on ice. Raphael Varane’s passes went astray more often than not, Paul Pogba and Fernandes lost the ball frequently, Rashford, Sancho and Ronaldo were nowhere near where they should be and the rest looked completely lost.
Simeone’s men pressed well, forcing United back with ease. A more in-form Atleti with confidence would arguably have put the game, and the tie to bed before half-time. United’s final third lived a charmed life, fate seemingly keeping the host side from creating clear-cut chances.
Pogba and Bruno have combined for 27 completed passes but 16 possession losses, too.
These are the games wherein their quality must be displayed.
— UtdArena (@UtdArena) February 23, 2022
Fernandes and Ronaldo tried their luck from distance aimlessly and did not trouble Jan Oblak. The most convincing thing about the away side was their masquerade of frustration at nothing. There was no single player that did themselves, let alone the Red Devils’ badge proud in the first 45.
If they were unlucky on other occasions, Atletico only had themselves to blame just before the break for not making it 2-0. A quick free kick on their left wing allowed Lodi to get in another great cross but a completely free Marcos Llorente failed to make clean contact at the far post and the ball bounced back off the crossbar.
⏸ We're behind at the break.#MUFC | #UCL
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 23, 2022
Rangnick’s half-time team talk did not look to have much impact with Atletico continuing to dominate at the start of the second period. They got two corners in quick succession after the break but United dealt with the threat.
The game drifted on and it was five minutes after the hour mark that Man United finally made substitutions to turn the tide. The changes though were rather curious – Nemanja Matic for Pogba, Aaron wan Bissaka (instead of the in-form Diogo Dalot) for Lindelof, and Alex Telles for Luke Shaw. There was no visible rationale behind the changes other than preservation for the second leg.
It was telling that Diego Someone, King of the 1-0, decided to throw on Thomas Lemar and Antoine Griezmann as his side chased a more comfortable scoreline. United made their fourth change, Anthony Elanga replacing a very poor Rashford.
ANTHONY ELANGAAAAAAAAAA! 😍#MUFC | #UCL
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 23, 2022
And it was the youngster who made the difference, getting the equaliser with 10 minutes to play which felt very much like a smash and grab. Bruno played in a delightful through ball to Elanga, the first one from the Portuguese that did not feel forced. The Dutchman waited for Oblak to commit and slid the ball past the Atleti goalkeeper cooly.
Atletico though were not satisfied with a draw and continued their search for a second. Griezmann nearly found it when a half-cleared corner found its way to him on the right hand side of the box. His curling shot cannoned off the crossbar, much to the relief of the stranded de Gea.
That was the last big chance of the match as Manchester United lucked out with a draw and the Wanda faithful must be wondering how they did not win that match on the way back. Here are our key takeaways from the match –
Ralf Rangnick turned heads with his lineup, naming all three senior centre-backs and no right-back in his the starting eleven. After much hypothesising, it became clear that Victor Lindelof was deputed to play at right back which was a gamble that did not pay off. A working structure with Pogba further up the pitch was also changed and the out of form Rashford was handed a start.
The curious decisions did not stop there though. The German’s second half triple substitution was perplexing. The decision to not involve Dalot and waiting until late to throw on the energetic and disciplined Elanga and Lingard also seems unjustified. Manchester United are far from a finished stable product but Rangnick’s continuous chopping and changing does not seem to help.
Joao Felix had arguably his most impactful game in an Atleti shirt so far on Wednesday night. He was involved in every attack from kickoff and had the away defenders on their toes until his substitution.
The Portuguese youngster combined well with strike partner Angel Correa, whose performance deserves plaudits of its own. Felix was effective and innovative and Simeone will be hoping that he can continue this level in the coming weeks.
ATLETI MISS OUT
Atletico had a golden opportunity against a Manchester United that just did not show up to put the tie beyond their reach. However, they showed with their lack of clinically why they are 15 points off the top of the league.
The 1-1 draw is not a bad result, especially after the removal of the away goals rule but it will certainly feel like a loss to Los Colcheneros. Manchester United need to do much better in the return fixture but it is still all to play for in this tie.