Atlético Madrid and Manchester United — two teams that are trying to recover from a poor start in their respective domestic leagues — meet in the Round of 16 first leg match in the Champions League on Wednesday with both teams hoping to continue their resurgence in Europe.
United had topped Group F ahead of Villarreal and Atalanta while Atletico had finished second behind Liverpool in Group B. In the domestic leagues, Man United have climbed up to fourth in the Premier League while Atleti are placed fifth in the La Liga and hoping to climb further up to maintain their chances of playing in Europe next season.
But Wednesday’s clash will be important beyond their desire to maintain their hopes of remaining in contention for European action.
Atletico’s record in Madrid in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage is quite remarkable - they have played 14 games since 1997, winning nine and no defeats.
If anyone can scale the Estadio Metropolitano rampart, however, it is surely Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 25 career goals against Atleti, including in extra time of 2014 final and during the shoot-out of the 2016 showpiece.
Ronaldo’s influence for United this season has arguably been matched only by goalkeeper David de Gea at the other end of the pitch. The Spain keeper has been in sensational form and is sure to want to pull out all the stops when he faces his former side for the first time.
United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick too is looking forward to facing Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone for the first time in his career.
Rangnick, who on Tuesday expressed his admiration and respect for Simeone, has never previously faced the Argentinian during his distinguished coaching career and is looking forward to the challenge in the last-16 ties.
Since hanging up his boots, Simeone has forged a reputation as one of the most accomplished managers in Europe after restoring the fortunes of Atletico in Spain. He has led the club to two La Liga titles, two Europa Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, the Spanish Cup and Spanish Super Cup.
Speaking in a pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Rangnick was asked for his thoughts on Simeone and he spoke eloquently about his opposite number during the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“In those 11 years he has won trophies with a clear identity and with a recognizable playing style,” Rangnick told journalists. “And I don’t think this has changed in the last years.
“There is always an emotional side and this also reflects the character of the manager — Diego Simeone is probably one of the most emotional managers in Europe.
“I will try to prepare my team for exactly that kind of challenge. It will be physical, it will be emotional. We have to be mentally strong in both games, even more so when we play away,” he was quoted as saying by United on their official website.
“We haven’t played against each other as of yet but I have always admired what he has achieved. In 11 years with Atletico, I think he has changed that club completely into one of the most respected clubs in Europe. As I said, I am forwarding to the two games.”