The Champions League has been a rare oasis of hope of silverware for United. They recovered well from the opening day defeat at Young Boys to top their Group. They face equally inconsistent Atletico whose mixed results in recent games saw them lose group in their quest to defend their La Liga title. The general pattern of United’s matches this season has been a superb first half followed by a lackluster one. The reverse rang true for this UCL Round of 16 first leg. Atleti, determined to be ahead were ahead after only 6 minutes. The back four of Man United was unfamiliar with Lindelof at right back. The Swedish defender had a hard time dealing with Joao Felix. Starting with the costly young Portuguese instead of the experienced Luis Suarez was a big call for Diego “El Cholo” Simeone. The diving header that led to the goal was precise leaving no room for error as De Gea was beaten with no chance. The only criticism usually afforded Atleti is that they are a 1-0 team, once they take a lead they want to grind out that narrow victory. They did it almost right after the goal putting humanity behind the ball with the likes of Correa virtually acting as midfielders.
As for United it took time for their big players to show up especially Bruno Fernandes. The playmaker is prone to losing the ball easily but also capable of a moment of brilliance as shown by the defense splitting pass to Elanga for equalizer. Equally polarizing in the last few matches has been the form of Rashford and Ronaldo. Ronaldo showed in this game that he can be bullied out of a match if you have defenders who want to mix it up such as Kondogbia and Herrera. Rashford has not been at the required level for United for most of the season and tends to go for the spectacular goal when passing is the best option. No surprises he was hooked off in the second half. It is the younger seemingly less experienced players that have carried United lately such as Elanga and Sancho. Now for the prizes. It is hard to pick one from a United perspective as this was certainly not vintage United. My stand out has got to be Fred. The Brazilian paired unfamiliarly with Pogba in midfield did his job in starting the attacks quickly in the second half. He has certainly won me over in recent games. For Atleti it has to be Kondogbia. The Frenchman is good at closing down the man with the ball, quickly giving no room for the creative players to make their mark.