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Simon Hart's Matchweek Preview

With Diego Simeone’s side struggling for form, the last person Atleti fans will want to see this week is their old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo

WORDS Simon Hart

Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Simon Hart's Matchweek Preview
Blog

Simon Hart's Matchweek Preview

With Diego Simeone’s side struggling for form, the last person Atleti fans will want to see this week is their old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo

WORDS Simon Hart

Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Penalty Pedigree

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Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Read the full story
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Talking point: Atleti’s identity crisis

The Atlético de Madrid team bus carries a slogan designed to sum up the attitude of Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions: “Otra forma de entender la vida” – in English, another way of understanding life. This is the outlook of a team who have purposely built an identity around being different to their glitzy neighbours Real Madrid. A team of footballing streetfighters moulded by a coach, Diego Simeone, who bestrides the touchline in all-black, like the anti-hero from some spaghetti western.
Simeone’s methods have brought Atleti two Spanish titles, two Europa League titles and two Champions League final appearances. Yet as his team prepare to host Manchester United, the “way” which is emblazoned on their team bus has become less clear.

In the week in December that Simeone marked 10 years in the job, they endured an unprecedented run of four straight Liga defeats when losing at Granada. Last Wednesday, they departed the Metropolitano pitch to boos after losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Levante. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna was a step back in the right direction: a win for Simeone’s fifth-placed team and, crucially, only their third clean sheet in 17 matches.  

Their defensive record underlines the sense of a blurred identity. In the league, they have conceded 34 goals in 25 games – exactly twice as many as Sevilla, the side with the meanest defence. In the Champions League group stage, Atlético suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals (the same as United), which meant that nine sides advanced to the last 16 with a better defensive record.

This is no longer the Atleti who reached a Champions League final conceding just six goals in 12 games on the way. Diego Godín has long gone. They have talented players, yet in La Liga this season have not managed a winning sequence longer than two matches. Simeone is reported to have told his players in the Camp Nou dressing room midway through this month’s 4-2 defeat that nobody would be able to force him out of the club. To quote an old crowd favourite, Paulo Futre: “Cholo will be there as long as he wants.”

The 51-year-old could do with a big win though. And their home record in Champions League knockout-round games gives them hope – no defeats in 14 games since 1997. Anyone who was at the Metropolitano for the 1-0 win over Liverpool at this same stage two years ago will remember the fans turning the sky red before as Atleti’s team bus reached the stadium. The noise inside helped push them to victory.

Even this season Atlético were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Liverpool in the group stage in October and in Luis Suárez they have an Anfield old boy (and twice a scorer at Old Trafford) who would love to ruffle the visitors’ feathers. United’s own inconsistency makes this tie all the harder to predict. After all, on the subject of identities, United, almost nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, have still yet to build a fresh one of any true substance. Hence the fact they have only reached two quarter-finals in this competition since their last final in 2011.

Player watch: A Ronaldo reprise?

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger when it comes to scoring against Manchester United's opponents

Cristiano Ronaldo may have encountered some frustrations since returning to Old Trafford but he is without doubt the player that Atlético fans will fear on Wednesday – and with good reason. After all, Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against the Rojiblancos. He hit Real Madrid’s fourth goal against them in the 2014 final, converted the winning spot-kick in the second all-Madrid final of 2016 and produced a tie-turning a hat-trick for Juventus against his old foe at this stage in 2019. Nine goals in 22 Premier League games this term is not the kind of ratio Ronaldo would wish for but in the Champions League group stage, he got six in five games, including winning strikes against Atalanta and Villarreal at home and the equaliser at Atalanta – all scored after the 80-minute mark. What’s Spanish for nemesis?

Haller still catching up

Sébastien Haller has broken records with his Ajax form

Ajax forward Sébastien Haller created a little piece of history for himself in the group stage when he became the first player to score 10 goals in his first six Champions League matches. Additionally, he joined that man Ronaldo in the record books for scoring in every game of a group campaign – a feat the Portuguese achieved in the 2017/18 campaign. To keep up with Ronaldo, Haller’s next challenge is to score in both matches against Benfica, and the next two after that, just as Ronaldo did in each leg of both the round of 16 and quarter-finals four years ago. Over to you then, Sébastien … and good luck.

The number: 13

Edouard Mendy has been solid between the sticks since joining Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has so far recorded 13 clean sheets in 17 appearances in the Champions League, including four in five matches this season. Given that in their last 10 fixtures the reigning champions have scored more than twice in a game just once – against fifth-tier Chesterfield in the FA Cup – they may well have to rely on another Mendy shutout against French titleholders LOSC. If so, it would be a first for the Senegalese against LOSC who, curiously, are the team he has faced most in his career and who, equally curiously, put a single goal past him on each of his five games against them for Stade de Reims and Rennes.

Juve look to new boy

Dušan Vlahović will be hoping to continue to add goals for his new club

A Europa League second round qualifying run-out against Zagłębie Lubin for his first club, Partizan, is the sum total of Dušan Vlahović’s UEFA club competition experience. That should change on Tuesday night when Juventus visit Villarreal and their £58m January acquisition from Fiorentina makes his Champions League debut. The Serbian got a goal on his Serie A debut for his new club – his 45th in 101 league outings in Italy – and should boost the European prospects of a Juventus side unbeaten in Serie A since 27 November. As for Villarreal, they have recent experience of troubling Italian opposition having taken four points off Atalanta in the group stage, earning a memorable a 3-2 win in Bergamo in December to take them through to this stage.

Penalty Pedigree

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