Manchester United vs Atletico Madrid | Tuesday 15th March 2022, 20:00 | BT Sport
From the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in the afternoon, attention will turn to an important night of Champions League football at Old Trafford.
The tie is delicately poised after Anthony Elanga cancelled out Joao Felix’s early opener for the La Liga champions. So, given the tense nature heading into this second leg, you wouldn’t be surprised to see this go into extra-time, if not be decided on penalties.
Since the first leg, Diego Simeone’s Atleti have won all three league games, including an important victory at Real Betis earlier in the month. They arrive in Manchester in good form but without a couple of players, including Geoffrey Kondogbia at the heart of their midfield.
Ralf Rangnick has a few injury doubts to deal with as well. Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw missed out at the weekend, so the German will be hoping to call on those for a return.
The Old Trafford faithful will be hoping for more magic from Cristiano Ronaldo after he surpassed Josef Bican’s FIFA goalscoring record with his hat-trick against Spurs on Saturday. Will he play an important role in firing Man Utd into the next round?
The second legs of these ties tend to be more open with both sides eager to progress. And that leads me to the way of thinking that’ll we see both teams finding the net once again.
During the clash at the Wanda, Atletico won the expected goals battle 1.42xG to 0.41xG, so they’ll have been disappointing not to have a lead to hold onto here.
Los Rojiblancos have conceded 36 goals in La Liga this season, with 23 of those being in away games (64%) – only six teams have let in more on their travels. So, the usually tight stereotypes associated with Atleti haven’t been as clear to see this term.
And once again I’ll repeat it – I don’t trust Man Utd defensively. They’ve conceded 40 goals in the Premier League, an average of 1.3 per game. While seven of their eight Champions League games this season have seen both teams score.
During the group stage, both Atalanta and Villarreal took the lead at Old Trafford, but despite neither winning, both had chances to take more than what they left Manchester with.
The first goal will be crucial and whatever way it goes, the opposition will end up chasing the game. So, that just gives this a feel of an open encounter, therefore the 10/11 on BTTS looks a solid angle.
Something I highlighted in my weekend preview of Man Utd v Spurs was the number of tackles opposition central midfielders make against the Red Devils. In that piece, I went with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who hit four in the match and was sat on three by half-time.
His midfield partner Rodrigo Bentancur also hit four, which further strengthens my belief to follow that angle once more. Call me boring if you want!
The first leg saw Kondogbia hit four, while Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera both recorded two. The frustrating one was the Mexican after making those in the first-half and failing to complete another tackle – maybe his 46th-minute caution made him watch his step.
But with Kondogbia injured, it’s likely to be Koke and Rodrigo de Paul that will have to do plenty of the heavy lifting in the middle of the park. And it’s the industrious Argentine that I’m leaning towards. He’s 15/8 for 3+ tackles with Sky Bet.
He’s had a few near misses with three two-tackle games in 2022. But he recorded three away to Barca and five in Friday night’s win over Cadiz. Plus, he’s completed 14 tackles in six appearances in the UCL.
When you look at those games, he made two against both Porto (H) and AC Milan (A) from off the bench. A case of what he might have done if starting. However, the final two group games saw him land three in 77 minutes in the home game against AC, while he recorded four in the Estadio do Dragao.
With the record of central midfielders highlighted before the weekend, then both Højbjerg and Bentancur hitting four makes me want to continue to follow this trend.