Madrid/London, Feb 22 (EFE).- Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid on Wednesday face their Champions League nightmare, Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, for the first leg of last-16 of Europe’s first-tier club tournament.
The Portuguese star has scored 25 goals against Atletico Madrid during his spells at Real Madrid and Juventus, including a hat-trick in the Rojiblancos’ 2016-2017 semifinal defeat to their fellow Spanish team.
A couple of years later, Ronaldo scored another hat-trick to fire Juventus past Atletico in the last-16 from a 2-0 first-leg disadvantage at the tournament that has eluded Simeone at Atletico.
With such a history, Atletico gear up for the clash which comes at the worst moment for them throughout Simeone’s decade spell as they lack their trademark defensive strength amid doubts about their playing style.
The Wanda Metropolitano is no longer their stronghold as they lost their most recent home LaLiga game against Levante, as did they versus Liverpool and Milan in the Champions.
However, it remains an intimidating stadium: “Mentally we need to prepare for a very emotional, if not hostile, atmosphere tomorrow,” United coach, Ralf Rangnick, said during a presser on the eve of the game.
“I don’t think the game or the fixture will be decided tomorrow, it will be decided in the second leg at Old Trafford,” he added.
United do not approach the game at their best either, having had difficulties to defeat a short-handed Brighton 2-0 and nearly squandered a 2-0 lead in their 4-2 win over Leeds in the last few days.
They have been struggling on defense, with Harry Maguire being under fire and Raphael Varane still yearning for the level that helped Real Madrid win four Champions Leagues.
Within the players, there are doubts about Rangnick’s methods, which have not led to the necessary change of direction after the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. They, however, look much better in Champions.
Rangnick will have his squad available, except for Mason Greenwood, sidelined for allegedly assaulting his partner, and Edinson Cavani, who has missed the last three games with a groin injury. EFE