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Heineken UCL Special: United Can Only Retain Ronaldo With A Champions League Triumph

Heineken UCL Special: United Can Only Retain Ronaldo With A Champions League Triumph

Manchester United only chance to avoid Cristiano Ronaldo leaving this summer is to win the UEFA Champions League this season.

The three-time UCL winners face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash on Wednesday, with the competition their final opportunity win a trophy this season. The Red Devils head to the Spanish capital looking to get one over on the struggling LaLiga champions.

Cristiano Ronaldo has already made it abundantly clear that he sees this as “the biggest club competition”, with no plans in place for an early departure.

This is the first time since the 2018/19 season that United have reached the knockout stages, having been dumped out at the group’s stage term. However, the two-legged affair also represents Ralf Rangnick’s final attempt at lifting silverware during his interim stint in the Old Trafford dugout.

And unless United can upset the odds, the Reds looked destined to extend a trophy drought that stretches back to the summer of 2017. And should they fail in their quest for a fourth European Cup, by the time their next trophy opportunity comes about, in February of 2023, United will be in the midst of their longest run without silverware for 50 years.

“Some of our players will not be received with a red carpet,” said Rangnick.

“Mentally, we need to be prepared for an emotional and hostile atmosphere. This is not the easiest of draws.”

Related: Heineken UCL Special: Can “dark horses” Chelsea Pull Off Back-To-Back Champions League Success?

How they got here

Manchester United finished top of Group F, while Atletico – who won La Liga last season but are only fifth domestically in 2021-22 – came second behind Liverpool in Group B.

United will be without Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani because of a groin problem, with Rangnick saying “it doesn’t make sense to push him” after he has been unable to train for two weeks.

“We have the chance to reach the quarter-finals. We have to show we’re up for it,” the German said.

“If we get through, it will raise the levels of confidence. In the Champions League, you need to perform on the highest possible level. We have to be prepared for the challenge and be mentally strong. It is about getting the best possible result. The fixture won’t be decided on Wednesday, it will be decided in the second leg.

“We want to play in the Champions League and show everybody we are able to beat this team. If we win the Champions League, we qualify next season. First, we need to play two good games against Atletico to try to progress to the next round.”

Match facts

Atlético de Madrid and Manchester United meet for the first time in more than 30 years in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie.

While Atleti have reached the knockout rounds for the eighth time in the last nine seasons, their English opponents are in the last 16 for the first time since 2018/19 – although this is their 12th appearance at this stage overall, three more than the Spanish club.

  • This season United finished first in Group F after bouncing back from a shock opening defeat while Atlético had to wait until Matchday 6 to secure progress from Group B, a 3-1 win at Porto taking them through as runners-up behind Liverpool.

Previous meetings

  • Atlético ended United’s defence of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the sides’ only previous tie, in the 1991/92 second round.
  • The Spanish side seized control of the contest with a 3-0 first-leg win in Madrid, Paulo Futre opening the scoring for Luis Aragonés’ team in the 32nd minute and making it 2-0 in the 86th, two minutes before Manolo added Atleti’s third at their old Vicente Calderón home.
  • Mark Hughes gave Alex Ferguson’s United hope of a comeback four minutes into the Old Trafford return but the home side were unable to add to that goal and Bernd Schuster settled the contest with a 68th-minute equaliser.
  • Atlético went on to lose on away goals to Club Brugge in the quarter-finals.



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