Ronaldo aims to vanquish Atletico again, Haller seeks further goals – Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk March 15, 2022

Tuesday sees two very finely poised games in the Champions League round of 16 as Manchester United host Atletico Madrid and Benfica travel to Amsterdam to face Ajax.

A 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago felt harsh on Atletico, and Diego Simeone will not have been too pleased to see Cristiano Ronaldo roar back into form at the weekend with a hat-trick in United's 3-2 win against Tottenham.

An exciting first leg in Lisbon saw Benfica and Ajax play out a 2-2 draw, with the Dutch side's star striker Sebastien Haller finding the net at both ends.

The removal of the away goals rule means there is not a single thing separating these sides heading into the second legs, so here are some Opta facts to help you decide who you think will come out on top on Tuesday.

Manchester United v Atletico Madrid

Ronaldo was back to his effervescent best on Saturday, and has scored in both of his Champions League home games for Ralf Rangnick's men this season. If he does so again, it would be only the second time he has managed three in a row for the club (previously between November 2007 and March 2008).

He has netted 13 goals in his last 15 home games against Atletico across all competitions, including two hat-tricks in his most recent four (for Real Madrid in May 2017 and Juventus in March 2019, both in this competition).

United have been eliminated from their last three Champions League knockout stage games when drawing the first leg, doing so against Real Madrid (2012-13 last 16), Bayern Munich (2013-14 quarter-final) and Sevilla (2017-18 last 16).

However, when failing to win the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie at home, Atletico have been eliminated three out of four times. The only exception was a 3-1 win at Chelsea in the 2013-14 semi-final, following a 0-0 draw in the home leg.

 

Before this season, 69 per cent of teams to draw the first leg of a Champions League knockout stage tie at home have been eliminated (59/85). That being said, six of the last 10 such teams to progress have done so against English sides.

Atletico have lost their last two away trips to face English sides in the Champions League, losing at Chelsea in 2020-21 and Liverpool this season without scoring a goal in either. In addition, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their eight total away games against English teams in the competition, conceding 14 goals overall.

The Red Devils have only won two of their last eight Champions League home games when hosting Spanish opposition (D3 L3), although the most recent of those did come earlier in the competition this season, beating Villarreal 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner from Ronaldo.

Despite the reputation of Simeone's side for being tight at the back, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last six Champions League matches – only between September 2009 and October 2013 (seven games) have they had a longer such run in the competition.

Ajax v Benfica

Ajax lost their first ever home game against a Portuguese opponent in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (3-1 in February 1969 v Benfica) but have since gone unbeaten in five matches since (W4 D1). They have won all three encounters that have taken place in the Champions League era, including one earlier this season (4-2 win v Sporting CP in the group stage).

Including qualifiers, Benfica have only won one of their last 10 away games against Dutch sides in European competition – 1-0 v AZ in the Europa League in 2013-14. Six of the other nine games have ended in draws (L3), including one earlier this season against PSV in Champions League qualifying (0-0).

Ajax have won all three of their home games in the Champions League this season. They will be looking to win four in a row on home soil in the competition for the first time since March 1996, when they won seven in succession under Louis van Gaal.

Benfica are looking to progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2015-16, when they beat Zenit. It would be just the fourth time they have reached the quarter-finals of the competition in the 21st century, after doing so in 2005-06, 2011-12 and 2015-16.

 

Goal enthusiasts Ajax have scored at least twice in all seven of their Champions League games this season, netting 22 times in total. That is the most by team from outside of the big five European leagues through their first seven games of a campaign since Ajax themselves, who scored 30 in 1979-80.

Benfica have only won one of their last 14 away games in the Champions League (D4 L9), which was against AEK Athens in October 2018. In the knockout stages of the competition, Nelson Verissimo's side have lost five of their last six away games (W1).

Ajax have four different players in double figures for chances created from open play in the Champions League this season – Dusan Tadic (16), Haller (13), Steven Berghuis (12) and Antony (10). Only Manchester City have had as many different players do so (also four).

Haller has been directly involved in five goals in three home appearances in the Champions League this season (three goals, two assists), and could become just the fourth player in the competition's history to score in each of his first four home appearances, after Oscar (2013), Frederic Kanoute (2008) and Alessandro Del Piero (1996).

Related items

  • Harry Maguire accepts big changes 'rightly' coming at Man Utd Harry Maguire accepts big changes 'rightly' coming at Man Utd

    Harry Maguire accepts there will be big changes at Manchester United at the end of the season, but he says everyone at the club must remain together amid fierce criticism of their displays.

    United have endured a miserable second season under Erik ten Hag, sitting seventh in the Premier League table and 16 points adrift of the top four ahead of Wednesday's visit of Sheffield United.

    They could yet end the campaign with silverware after reaching the FA Cup final with Sunday's penalty shoot-out victory over Coventry City, but they have been heavily criticised after narrowly avoiding a humiliating loss in that semi-final.

    Ten Hag's men squandered a 3-0 lead and were fortunate to avoid a 4-3 defeat in the dying moments of extra time, when Victor Torp's potential winner was disallowed for a marginal offside call.

    Roy Keane said United's players looked "embarrassed" to win the tie, though Ten Hag later said it was the negative media coverage of his team that was embarrassing.

    Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of Wednesday's meeting with his former club, Maguire said: "I've been at this club a long enough time to know that the noise around the place is always here, whether it's with the manager or the players.

    "There are players under huge amounts of pressure and when you lose matches or go on bad runs, the manager comes under pressure as well.

    "We all know it's about maintaining our focus and aims for the season and sticking together. We believe that we can still achieve things this season.

    "We've got an FA Cup final, Premier League games to fight in and we're all in this together. The manager, the players, the fans, we all want the same thing and that's to be successful."

    United's players celebrated Sunday's win in a muted fashion, with the exception of winger Antony, who has been roundly mocked for cupping his ears to taunt Coventry's players. 

    Reflecting on the end of that game, Maguire said: "It was a really strange mix of emotions. I don't think we needed to celebrate too hard. 

    "We let ourselves down in the last 20 minutes of normal time and to play for this club, it involves huge responsibility, and we didn't take responsibility in that last 20 minutes.

    "You're coming to training the next day and you're in another FA Cup final. It's what you dream of playing in when you're a young boy, so the boys are really happy.

    "But like I said, the way the game ended, we were disappointed with the way we acted."

    A decision on Ten Hag's future is one of many which must be made by new minority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe in the coming weeks, after the INEOS founder was handed full control of football operations at Old Trafford. 

    Maguire has faith in INEOS to get things right in the close season, saying: "They've brought a lot of positivity to the club and to the fanbase. I think there will be changes and rightly so.

    "The club is wanting to get back to where it was 15 years ago, and that's fighting for the big trophies and league titles. I'm sure they have a plan."

  • Winning FA Cup would be an over-achievement, says Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag Winning FA Cup would be an over-achievement, says Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag

    Erik ten Hag claims Manchester United will have over-achieved if they win the FA Cup this season.

    Ten Hag and his team have faced criticism after edging past Championship side Coventry on penalties in the semi-finals, having been 3-0 up with 20 minutes to go.

    They will take on Manchester City in a repeat of last year’s final hoping to exact revenge and, despite their league struggles, Ten Hag was bullish about what that would mean.

    United could miss out on European football altogether, but the Red Devils boss believes the club’s struggles with injury this campaign are a major mitigating factor.

    “I would say it’s over-performing with all the problems we have had,” said the Dutchman of the possibility of silverware.

    “Getting into the final is already a big achievement, but we are here for trophies. We have an opportunity to win a trophy and that is good. But we are not satisfied by being in the final, we want to win it and that is what we will go for and it’s our mentality.

    “That is why we are successful. That’s why I am successful over 10 years as a manager, I always bring out the maximum of each squad.”

    Ten Hag was in a combative mood in the press room ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Sheffield United, branding the media reaction to his side’s cup display “embarrassing” and “a disgrace”.

    Many fans were also critical and Ten Hag added of the late collapse: “We were not happy with it. I can see the fans are not happy with it as well, but they get fed by opinions.

    “But all over, what I heard is that the fans are very happy we are again in the FA Cup final. Even for Manchester United, it is not business as usual, they were not so often in the FA Cup final and they were never in the FA Cup final two times in a row.”

    United’s injury problems continued on Sunday, with Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay all picking up issues, and the latter two are doubtful for Wednesday.

    Casemiro could again be required in defence, while United’s bench at the weekend featured five teenagers.

    “We will put a team out that is capable of winning the match, even if we have to be really creative,” said Ten Hag.

    One of the players who will be hoping for a start is 21-year-old Amad Diallo, who has featured five times as a substitute over the past couple of months.

    “Amad deserves it, but don’t forget he had a long period in the season injured, so we rebuilt him and now he has had some opportunities and a real contribution,” said Ten Hag.

    “He played in a position that is not his best position. He started as a striker and then he had to play in the midfield, so he did well. We have a number of players in that area, there is big competition.

    “But I am very happy with his performances and his progress, I see his qualities and his assets can really contribute to our game.”

  • Erik Ten Hag says reaction to Manchester United’s FA Cup win was ’embarrassing’ Erik Ten Hag says reaction to Manchester United’s FA Cup win was ’embarrassing’

    Erik Ten Hag has branded the reaction to Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Coventry “embarrassing” and “a disgrace”.

    Having let slip a 3-0 lead at Wembley with 20 minutes to go and then won on penalties after the Championship side had an extra-time goal disallowed for a marginal offside, United were heavily criticised by pundits and fans alike despite making it back-to-back finals.

    Ten Hag met a question about whether he understood the response at a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s clash against Sheffield United with a feisty response, saying: “No, absolutely not.

    “The question: ‘Is it embarrassing?’ No, the reaction from you was embarrassing. It is the comments. Top football is about results, we made it to a final and we deserved it not only by this game but also the other games.

    “We lost control for 20 minutes, we also had bad luck, 3-2, 3-3. We were very lucky in the end, clear. Penalties was very good and we made it to the final, it is a huge achievement. Twice in two years is magnificent.

    “For me as a manager, four cup finals in four years. The comments are a disgrace.”

    Antony has come in for particular criticism after he cupped his ear with his hand in a mocking gesture towards the Coventry players when Rasmus Hojlund netted the winning penalty.

    Ten Hag accepted Antony was wrong but claimed he was provoked, saying: “That’s why, this was a reaction of that, you haven’t seen the provocation, only the reaction. But he should not do it.

    “I have seen Harry Maguire straight after and others, we should acknowledge the performance of Coventry to come into that…and the comeback. Also see we are 70 minutes totally dominating the game by far and creating many chances.

    “At 3-0 it must have been the game is closed but the return from their side was very good.”

    The collapse added further intensity to the spotlight on Ten Hag’s position, and on Friday United announced that Jason Wilcox had left Southampton with immediate effect to become their new technical director.

    Ten Hag said he was looking forward to working very closely with the former winger, adding: “We have to form a partnership, it’s very important. We are a little behind in the process so we have to catch up, so we will go and speed up the process.

    “I met him yesterday for the first time, we had some talks. This week we will not have so much time but from Monday on we will go forward.

    “Of course I know his profile, I know his methods in youth, a lot of experience there and then one year at Southampton. I know his background so I am looking forward to our partnership.”

    United’s injury crisis continued at Wembley, with Alejandro Garnacho, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes all picking up problems.

    McTominay and Rashford are both doubtful for Wednesday but Ten Hag expects Garnacho and Fernandes to be able to play.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.