Blog

The pressure is on

As the final set of round of 16 fixtures get underway this week, Simon Hart chats the Theatre of Dreams, Ajax's main man, Juve and the number 4

WORDS Simon Hart

Talking point: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

Talking point: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

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: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

The pressure is on
Blog

The pressure is on

As the final set of round of 16 fixtures get underway this week, Simon Hart chats the Theatre of Dreams, Ajax's main man, Juve and the number 4

WORDS Simon Hart

Talking point: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

Penalty Pedigree

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Talking point: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

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: ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has lost fear factor

Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics book needed updating after his weekend hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the 49th treble of his club career while, according to FIFA, his total of 807 goals in professional football constitutes a world record.

What it means also is that the 37-year-old should enter Tuesday’s Round of 16 second-leg match against Atlético de Madrid with a spring in his step.
Atlético supporters might understandably be fearful of the prospect of Ronaldo – a man with 25 career goals against their team – producing yet another Champions League winner at Old Trafford following his decisive late strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta in the autumn.

However, those fans making the trip from Spain to the northwest of England should note that the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as United’s home became known in the 1990s – is not the fearsome venue it once was.

Indeed, to illustrate the point, United have suffered five defeats in their last 12 home Champions League fixtures – the first of them against Sevilla at this same stage in the 2017/18 competition. Then as now a Spanish side arrived in Manchester after being held at home … and took the spoils with an extra-time victory.

Compare United’s recent run with the fact that prior to that 2018 defeat by Sevilla, they had been beaten only five times in their preceding 76 Champions League home games, qualifiers included. And those five losses came in a period spanning more than a decade between a 3-2 home reverse against Deportivo La Coruña in October 2001 and a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European home fixture.

In short, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is no longer the place of opposition nightmares. In February, Championship side Middlesbrough earned a 1-1 draw there before eliminating United from the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out. United’s previous home game before Saturday’s Ronaldo heroics had ended in a 0-0 draw with Watford.
Atlético can take heart too from their five-match winning sequence in La Liga which has lifted them back into Spain’s top four. And if their own veteran forward Luis Suárez is struggling to make an impact on matches – with three goals in 20 club outings, the ex-Liverpool man will likely have to settle for a place on the bench – the Spanish champions have an in-form forward in João Félix. Scorer of the Rojiblancos’ goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw, he has three more from his last two domestic outings, the wins over Real Betis and Cádiz. Ronaldo will not be the only Portuguese ace with a spring in his step on Tuesday.

Player watch: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)

Sébastien Haller has been in fine form for Ajax

Momentum matters in football; timing too, and strikers knows this better than anyone. There are times when they can fire a series of blanks. There are times also when they strike a rich seam and the goals just flow. Ajax striker Haller is currently in that charmed place, having found the net in all seven of his appearances in this season’s competition.

No player had previously scored in each of his first seven matches in the Champions League but Haller has not looked back since finding the net after 70 seconds of his group-stage debut against Sporting. Twenty-two shots have brought 11 goals and only one of them has been a penalty, the rest all coming from inside the box, two with his head.  

It helps to have the supply line that Ajax offer with Brazilian winger Antony teeing up three of the striker’s goals (for three-quarters of his four assists so far). Skipper Dusan Tadić warrants a mention too: he nestles in the competition’s top three for key passes (18 and counting) and found the net, like Haller, in the 2-2 draw in Lisbon against Benfica.

Speaking of Benfica, the Lisbon club have won eight and lost only one of their last 16 Champions League matches against Dutch clubs (since defeat in the 1988 final v PSV Eindhoven). Halting Haller, though, will not be easy.

Number: 4

LOSC have a half-decent home record against English teams. Fans of Les Dogues have seen wins over Liverpool and Manchester United and just one defeat among the six previous matches against visitors from across La Manche.  However, not once have they scored more a single goal against an English side, accumulating just four buts in those six matches.

Four also happens to be the total number of goals that Édouard Mendy has conceded in 18 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. So far the Senegalese international has 14 clean sheets including five in six games this term. His ratio of goals conceded per minute stands currently at one every 405 minutes. Suddenly, LOSC’s 2-0 first-leg deficit looks even greater.

And finally: Can Juve avoid three in a row?

It is easy to imagine there was nobody at Juventus sorry to see the back of the away-goals rule. After all, at this stage of the last two Champions League campaigns, the Bianconeri suffered elimination via the fine margins of that ruling. In 2020, a 2-1 home victory over Lyon was not enough to make amends for a 1-0 first-leg loss. In 2021, similarly, after losing 2-1 at Porto, a 3-2 second-leg success against Porto brought elimination. Twelve months on, Juventus managed to avoid defeat in their first leg, drawing 1-1 at Villarreal, and are better placed to progress than in the last two campaigns. Their 15-match unbeaten run in Serie A is a sign of a side with form and confidence. It was at the Juventus Stadium that Villarreal coach Unai Emery won the first of his three Europa League finals with Sevilla; another triumph on Wednesday night really would take all of his and his team’s powers.

Penalty Pedigree

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