The Champions League knockout stages continue as holders Chelsea host Lille and Manchester United travel to Atletico Madrid.
United will be hoping to follow the other three Premier League sides in securing first-leg leads in the last 16, after Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City thrashed Sporting Lisbon 5-0 and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool beat Inter Milan 2-0 last week.
Chelsea made it three out of three with their 2-0 win over Lille on Tuesday – meaning that the Premier League teams are yet to concede a goal in the knockout stages so far let alone suffer a defeat.
Simeone feeling the heat at Atletico
If Ralf Rangnick is to win a trophy during his interim reign as Manchester United manager, it can only be by delivering the club’s fourth European Cup. The German’s team has already exited the FA Cup, but he has overseen a recovery in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s firing, taking 25 points from 12 games to take United from sixth to fourth.
A sign of the 63-year-old Rangnick’s top-level coaching inexperience is that the game at Atletico is the first time he’s managed a team in the Champions League knockout phase since his Schalke side was beaten in the semi-finals in 2011 by Alex Ferguson’s United.
Rangnick has been beset by reports about the challenges coaching United and it was significant that he referenced the unity on display in Sunday’s 4-2 win at Leeds in the Premier League. He said the result was the best reply that they could give to some articles last week that there was some disruption in the dressing room.
Atletico Madrid factfile
Having led Atletico to La Liga glory for the second time last season, Diego Simeone has endured a frustrating campaign to date.
Simeone’s men currently lie in fifth place in Spain, 15 points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table – they have lost seven league games to date this season, three more than in the whole of the last campaign – and had their domestic cup hopes shattered by Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup exits inside a week last month.
They emerged from Group B as runners-up behind Liverpool despite losing 3-2 at home to the Reds and 2-0 at Anfield, and went out of the competition at this stage last season to eventual winners Chelsea following a 1-0 defeat at the Metropolitano and a 2-0 reverse at Stamford Bridge.
However, they did beat United over two legs the last time the clubs met, in the second round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991-92. Evergreen striker Luis Suarez will hope to renew his rivalry with the men from Old Trafford, but Antoine Griezmann is yet to figure since his return from a thigh injury.
Atletico are led by the longest-serving coach remaining in this season’s Champions League. But fresh from marking a decade in charge in December, Atletico are enduring one of their most turbulent moments under Diego Simeone. The team is inconsistent – much like United – and Simeone is feeling the heat.
There was an encouraging 3-0 win at Osasuna at the weekend but Atletico had lost four of their previous six games in all competitions before Saturday, including eliminations from the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey.
Like United in England, Atletico are currently chasing the fourth and final Champions League qualification place in Spain. Simeone is likely to face United without Daniel Wass and Matheus Cunha because of injuries, while Thomas Lemar remains in isolation with coronavirus. While Atletico are the defending Spanish champions, United haven’t won a trophy since the 2017 Europa League under Jose Mourinho.
- Atletico Madrid and Manchester United have only appeared in the same European campaign once before – the 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup – when the Spanish side knocked out their English counterparts 4-1 on aggregate in the Last 16.
- United’s only previous visit to Atlético Madrid was in the first leg of their 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup tie at the Vicente Calderón, when a starting XI that contained Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes (amongst others) were beaten 3-0 by Luis Aragonés’ men.
- Atletico have lost each of their last four Champions League matches against English teams, double the number of defeats they suffered across their first 12 such matches in the competition.
Elsewhere on Wednesday…
Benfica vs Ajax: The Amsterdam club sparkled in the group stage, winning all six games as Sebastien Haller became the first man to score 10 goals in his first six games in the competition.
The Dutch leaders are as dominant domestically, winning the last seven matches to establish a five-point lead at the top of the Eredivisie.
Benfica reached the last 16 by helping to eliminate Barcelona with a win and draw against the five-time European champions. But Benfica’s confidence isn’t so high now after winning only twice in five games in all competitions.
The latest setback was a 2-2 draw at relegation-threatened Boavista in the Portuguese league after leading 2-0 until the 74th minute.
The result was another blow for the Portuguese powerhouse that are only third in the league standings, behind rivals Sporting Lisbon and leaders Porto. It’s a slump overseen by Nelson Verissimo, the B team coach who took over after Jorge Jesus was fired at the end of last year despite the results against Barcelona.
What else has happened so far?
In the round’s other matches, Kylian Mbappe – who has long been linked with a move to Real Madrid – scored a 94th-minute winner against Carlo Ancelotti’s side as Paris Saint-Germain take a slender advantage into the second leg.
Red Bull Salzburg, the first Austrian side in Champions League history to reach the knockout rounds, drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich, while Villarreal and Juventus played out a 1-1 draw in Spain.
Do City need to win it this year?
“100 per cent they do. It’s alright winning the Premier League as they’ve got £80m players in every position and while Pep’s not won the Champions League in 10 years, City never have.
“The longer it goes on, the harder it becomes if I’m being honest. Teams are becoming stronger. They’re not becoming weaker. When Man City are buying players, they’re not even making a massive difference.
“They signed Jack Grealish, but he’s not done anything yet and they’re still going to win the league. I think Jack will be alright but the longer City go without winning the Champions League, the harder it will be.
“City have got to win it. Sometimes, their problem is that the Premier League is too easy for them. It’s alright whipping up Norwich every week, and that’s their bread and butter. But it’s a major problem.
“We see it over the years with Manchester United back in the day. The league was too easy for them, and then they would play gung-ho football against Real Madrid and get punished.
“Sometimes, City have to be a little bit more tactically aware. Teams like Bayern Munich have got players who can really hurt you.”
The state of play
As the 2021/22 Champions League returns for the round of 16, we bring you the state of play, upcoming fixtures and the schedule for the remainder of the tournament.
The group stage of the competition came to a conclusion in early December, with Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona the big-hitters who exited prior to the round of 16, dropping into the Europa League as a result.
For Dortmund, it represented just the second time in a decade they had failed to progress from the group stage, with five-time winners Barca a mainstay of the latter stages in 19 of the last 20 campaigns.
From a British perspective, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City sealed their spot in the last 16 with a game to spare, meaning their 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig in their final group game mattered little, although Champions League holders Chelsea had to settle for second spot in Group H after drawing 3-3 with Zenit in their last group fixture.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side – who had already grabbed top spot in Group B with two games to spare – became the first English side to win all six Champions League group-stage games, beating AC Milan 2-1 in their final match to give a reminder of their own threat in this competition.
Meanwhile, Manchester United pipped last season’s Europa League winners Villarreal to Group F top spot, despite drawing two of their last three games, and will face now face Atletico Madrid.
Round of 16
Tuesday February 15
Wednesday February 16
Tuesday February 22
Wednesday February 23
Tuesday March 8
Wednesday March 9
Tuesday March 15
Wednesday March 16
Draw scheduled to take place on Friday March 18.
First legs scheduled to be played on Tuesday April 5 and Wednesday April 6; Second legs on Tuesday April 12 and Wednesday April 13.
Draw scheduled to take place on Friday March 18.
First legs scheduled to be played on Tuesday April 26 and Wednesday April 27; Second legs on Tuesday May 3 and Wednesday May 4.
Scheduled to be played on Saturday May 28 at Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg.