After knocking Ajax out of the Champions League, Benfica’s Alex Grimaldo revealed Rui Costa provided timely pre-match motivation.

Tuesday’s hard-fought 1-0 win in Amsterdam put Benfica through 3-2 on aggregate, and the majority of the match saw Benfica defensively scrambling and scrapping.

It was only the club’s second win in the last 15 away matches in the Champions League, the other being a 3-2 win over AEK Athens in the 2018-19 group stage.

The influential Grimaldo embodied the team’s determination on an individual level, playing a full 90 minutes and seeing the result through despite multiple medical treatments.

The 26-year-old revealed the team received ample motivation beforehand from Rui Costa, the legendary former Benfica player and sporting director who is now president, following Luis Filipe Vieira's arrest in June.

"Before the game, he motivated the players, told us to dream and enjoy these types of games and in the end that’s what we did," Grimaldo told Eleven post-match.

"It was a game of great responsibility, because we know that in the league things are not going well, but we give everything for this club. We had the dream of reaching the quarter-finals and we did it."

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag described his side's defeat as a "bitter" blow after they fell to Benfica in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The reigning Eredivisie champions controlled most of the exchanges, boasting over 70 per cent of possession as it seemed Ajax would find the decisive goal following a 2-2 draw in the first meeting late in February.

But a late Darwin Nunez header secured a 3-2 aggregate victory in the last-16 clash as the striker powered in his fourth Champions League goal this season. Only Nuno Gomes has ever scored more in a single season for the club in the Champions League era (five in 1998-99).

That meant Ajax became just the second side to have scored as many as 22 goals without reaching the quarter-finals of the competition, after Paris Saint-Germain in 2017-18 when they netted 27 but went out at this same stage.

Ten Hag bemoaned his side's failure to make their dominance pay after Ajax failed to reach the quarter-finals in the competition for an 11th time in their last 12 attempts, since reaching the last eight in the 2002-03 campaign.

"We played good football, we were good defensively, and we also played good pressing. Then it is bitter that you do not win," Ten Hag told RTL after the game.

"But small mistakes have big consequences, you will see that tonight, and in Lisbon. We know that they are strong in set-pieces and then there is a miscommunication between two players.

"We have neutralised them completely, except for one moment."

Goalkeeper Andre Onana was towered above by Nunez for the 77th-minute winner, which was Benfica's only attempt on target, but Ajax captain Dusan Tadic refused to place the blame on one individual following the defeat.

"It is difficult to find the right words. We knew that they are strong with set-pieces and counter-attacks, that is what it is all about in Europe," Tadic told RTL.

"I am so disappointed, we should have scored earlier, in the first half. We are a team, and it doesn't matter if we win or lose, we have to stay together, and we can't blame anyone."

Daley Blind, who became Ajax's outright Champions League appearance record holder with his 44th outing in the competition, echoed Tadic's sentiments as he vented his frustration.

"This hurts, I think it is unjust," Blind said. "I have little to say about our game. We have not encountered much, only that one moment, then you just have to stand your ground in the box."

Darwin Nunez headed a late winner as Benfica secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals with a 1-0 victory at Ajax, sealing a 3-2 aggregate win in the last-16 tie.

A 2-2 draw in the first leg in Lisbon had left the contest finely poised, and Erik ten Hag's home side dictated from the outset at the Johan Cruijff Arena on Tuesday.

However, it was Benfica who struck decisively in the 77th minute when Nunez powered in the Portuguese visitors' first attempt on target to send Nelson Verissimo's side through.

Benfica will now wait to find out the identity of their opponents in the last-eight draw on Friday, with the two-leg clashes set to take place across early April.

Ajax dominated the opening exchanges and Sebastien Haller turned home after just seven minutes, but a belated offside flag against Dusan Tadic cut short the celebrations.

Antony tested Odisseas Vlachodimos from range, and Ryan Gravenberch saw a fizzing strike tipped over as Ten Hag's players continued in authoritative fashion but without reward before the break.

Tadic skewed off target as Ajax picked up where they left off after the interval, before an unmarked Jan Vertonghen offered the hosts a scare as he headed wide from a presentable chance.

Antony almost broke the deadlock, but his headed effort narrowly missed the top-left corner, and Ajax's failure to convert proved costly with 13 minutes remaining.

Nunez towered above goalkeeper Andre Onana to meet Alex Grimaldo's inswinging free-kick from the right flank and he clinically headed into the left corner, dramatically snatching the spoils for Benfica.

Edinson Cavani's stay at Manchester United seems to be coming to an end.

Signed as a free agent from Paris Saint-Germain in 2020, Cavani has found his game-time limited this season by both injury and managerial preferences, while it has also been claimed recently he has opted out of playing.

He is out of contract at the end of the season and appears determined to find a new club.

 

TOP STORY – CAVANI WANTS LALIGA SWITCH

Fabrizio Romano has reported that Cavani's preference is to join a team in LaLiga.

The 35-year-old, who has scored two Premier League goals this season, has not yet played in LaLiga, having previously starred for Napoli in Serie A before his move to PSG in 2013.

Cavani was previously linked with a move to Atletico Madrid, prior to joining United. Romano also reports that Argentine giants River Plate have approached the Uruguay international, but that potential move does not interest the striker.

ROUND-UP 

- Barcelona want to tie up deals for Ajax full-back Noussair Mazraoui, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Milan's midfield powerhouse Franck Kessie, who are all approaching the end of their contracts, reports Romano.

- The Daily Mail, citing The Mirror, are reporting that United will consider making a move for Tottenham star Harry Kane at the end of the season.

- Aston Villa are one of the clubs monitoring Kalvin Phillips' situation at Leeds United, so say The Daily Mail.

- SPORT claim that Sergino Dest is willing to leave Barca and join Roma.

- According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Juventus and Milan are both keeping tabs on Lille midfielder Renato Sanches.

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).

Manchester United's search for a new permanent manager continues.

The Red Devils parted ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last year after an underwhelming campaign despite the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ralf Rangnick has taken over on an interim basis, buying United time to get the right man for the job.

TOP STORY - MAN UTD 'SOUND OUT' TEN HAG

Manchester United have "sounded out" Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag through intermediaries with no formal approach yet, claims Sky Sports.

Ten Hag along with current Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino are believed to be the two lead candidates for the top job at Old Trafford.

The report claims the Dutchman would be keen to speak to United if they make a formal approach.

 

ROUND-UP

- Italian champions Inter are ready to allow Alexis Sanchez to exit the club in mid-year reports Calciomercato. The 33-year-old's contract at San Siro runs until 2023 but Inter are keen to get his hefty wages off their books.

- England international Joe Gomez will seek a move away from Liverpool at the end of this season, claims 90min, as he seeks more regular game-time, having been a bit-part player this term. Leicester City, Tottenham, Newcastle United and West Ham are all interested.

- Brighton and Hove Albion are leading the race to sign Chile international Ben Brereton Diaz from promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers, claims TEAMtalk. Crystal Palace, Everton, Leeds United and West Ham are also interested.

- Mundo Deportivo reports that West Ham are interested in signing former Barcelona, Milan and Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu from Udinese.

- Fichajes claims Wolves are in talks with Shakhtar Donetsk's Pedrinho about a move to England, with players from Ukrainian clubs able to seek free transfers.

Much has changed in European football in the past five years – and few clubs illustrate that greater than fallen giants Barcelona.

On this day in 2017, Barca were thrashing Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the most remarkable Champions League turnaround ever, becoming the only side in the competition's history to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit.

Now, Neymar and Lionel Messi – the two stars of that Blaugrana side – are preparing to play Real Madrid as PSG players.

Meanwhile, Barca are not even in the Champions League knockout stages, instead facing Galatasaray in the Europa League last 16 while battling to return to UEFA's flagship competition next season.

Indeed, Barca's recent European past has found them on the wrong end of epic Champions League comebacks, but that PSG classic still ranks among the tournament's greatest two-legged recoveries – remembered by Stats Perform here...

2019: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (4-3 on aggregate)

One of a couple of examples Barca fans will not remember so fondly, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool had been well beaten at Camp Nou, with the 3-0 scoreline flattering the Catalans but making them clear favourites to complete their semi-final task at Anfield.

Liverpool were without injured forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg, yet two goals each from Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum saw the hosts defy the odds in sensational style.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner.

It meant a Barca side boasting Messi and former Liverpool stars Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez were left devastated, while Klopp's men celebrated reaching the final, where they would win a sixth title.

2019: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (3-3 agg)

The night after Liverpool's win, Ajax looked certain to join the Reds in the final when they extended their 1-0 first-leg lead to 3-0 in Amsterdam with first-half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Ziyech.

Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham took inspiration from Liverpool's stunning fightback 24 hours earlier, though, and Lucas Moura stepped up to emerge as their hero.

The Brazilian forward scored an improbable hat-trick in the second half, the vital third goal coming deep into stoppage time, as Spurs won on away goals.

2018: Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg)

Barcelona were stunned in the Italian capital as Roma completed one of the most unlikely quarter-final turnarounds – another that benefited from an away goals rule that has since been scrapped.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side came back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to the last four after a thrilling 3-0 win in front of their home fans.

Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas secured the 4-4 aggregate draw and sent the Stadio Olimpico into raptures, as Barca fell to pieces.

2017: Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain (6-5 agg)

Those humblings at the hands of Roma and Liverpool make for painful memories for those of a Blaugrana persuasion, but this remains the ultimate 'Remontada'.

Trailing 4-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie with PSG, Suarez and Messi scored either side of a Layvin Kurzawa own goal, only for Edinson Cavani to grab what was expected to be the decisive away goal for the visitors.

However, two quickfire Neymar goals – the second a highly controversial penalty after an apparent Suarez dive – brought it back to 5-5, meaning Barca needed just one more.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sergi Roberto struck from Neymar's cross to create Champions League history.

2004: Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 Milan (5-4 agg)

Deportivo were among Spain's major forces just after the turn of the century and one of their finest moments in Europe came in April 2004 when, despite being 4-1 down from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Milan, they stunned the Rossoneri at the Riazor.

Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque had Depor ahead on away goals before half-time, with veteran Fran Gonzalez scoring the fourth to make sure of their passage.

Depor were eliminated by eventual winners Porto in the semi-finals, but this comeback stood as arguably the very best in Champions League history until Barca went one better.

2000: Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea (aet, 6-4 agg)

Barca already had a history of Champions League fightbacks.

A 3-1 first-leg loss at Stamford Bridge – having trailed 3-0 – had the Blaugrana in danger of being on the wrong end of a major Champions League upset prior to Chelsea's Roman Abramovich era, but in the return match the Catalan giants showed their true class.

Tore Andre Flo's 60th-minute goal was sending Chelsea through despite Rivaldo and Luis Figo scoring before the break, but Dani Garcia headed home seven minutes from the end of regulation to force extra time.

Rivaldo atoned for an earlier missed penalty by converting from the spot after Celestine Babayaro was sent off, and Patrick Kluivert finished the game off, crushing Chelsea's dreams.

Georginio Wijnaldum only joined Paris Saint-Germain in June but is reportedly unsettled.

The 31-year-old Dutch midfielder had signed a three-year deal with the Parisians.

Wijnaldum has been linked with several clubs given his situation.

TOP STORY – VILLA PLOT WIJNALDUM MOVE

Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa are considering a move for PSG's Wijnaldum , claims Sport.

Gerrard is keeping tabs on ex-Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum, who is reportedly ready to leave PSG whom he joined less than 12 months ago.

The Villans were quoted with a £21million price tag for Wijnaldum who is contracted until 2024.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca claims that 35-year-old Luis Suarez will leave Atletico Madrid at the end of this season, with Inter, Ajax and Sevilla pursuing him along with unnamed Brazilian clubs.

- Newcastle United will table a £50m offer for Bayer Leverkusen's French winger Moussa Diaby,  according to the Mail. Leverkusen have set a £75m valuation for Diaby.

- PSG want to re-sign Italy international forward Moise Kean, who is currently on loan at Juventus from Everton, claims Calciomercato. Kean was on loan at PSG last season, netting 17 goals in 41 appearances.

- Football Insider reports that Arsenal are monitoring Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins as a cut-price forward option if moves for Alexander Isak, Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Darwin Nunez fail to materialise.

Manchester United's search for a new manager continues after axing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November.

The Red Devils are taking their time with the appointment, with Ralf Rangnick in an interim role until the end of the season.

United hope the next man in can turn their fortunes around, having struggled to be Premier League contenders since Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

TOP STORY – UNITED SHORTLIST HASENHUTTL

Manchester United have added Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl to their shortlist, according to The Mirror.

PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag remain the front-runners, but United face a battle to persuade either to head to Old Trafford.

Current United interim manager Ralf Rangnick worked with Hasenhuttl at RB Leipzig and the club are admirers of the Austrian.

ROUND-UP

- Atletico Madrid are considering making a move for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, reports Mundo Deportivo. Wijnaldum is weighing up his future at PSG despite moving to France only last year.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea's Andreas Christensen has turned down offers from other Premier League clubs and is on the verge of agreeing to a deal with Barcelona.

Lazio could make a loan move for Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, with manager Maurizio Sarri keen to be reunited with the Spain international, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are plotting a move for Lille's 20-year-old midfielder Amadou Onana, who is valued at £20m by the French club.

Crystal Palace have joined the pursuit for Marseille's out-of-contract midfielder Boubacar Kamara, alongside Newcastle United and West Ham, according to the Sun.

Manchester United's search for a permanent manager continues to take up plenty of column inches, with a new name now entering the mix.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax chief Erik ten Hag have long been considered the two frontrunners to take over at Old Trafford.

But a somewhat surprise candidate is now reportedly being considered to succeed interim manager Ralf Rangnick on a short-term basis at the end of the campaign.


TOP STORY – ANCELOTTI A CONTENDER FOR UNITED

According to ESPN, United may look to appoint Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti as they explore contingency plans in their pursuit of a new manager.

While Pochettino and Ten Hag remain on the Red Devils' managerial shortlist, Ancelotti is said to be seen as an ideal short-term fix thanks to his vast experience.

The Italian has previously spent time in English football with Everton and Chelsea, winning a Premier League and FA Cup with the latter in 2009-10.

Ancelotti is currently in his second spell with Madrid and has another two seasons to run on his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu.


ROUND-UP

- PSG have offered Kylian Mbappe a contract worth €50million a year to fend off interest from rival clubs, according to Le Parisian. Madrid are the strong favourites to sign the France international should he depart the Parc des Princes as a free agent in July.

- Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are also set to be out of contract at Chelsea in the next few months and are not short of potential suitors. Mundo Deportivo reports that Barcelona are confident of signing the pair, while Ajax's Noussair Mazraoui and Jose Gaya of Valencia are also targets.

- Madrid are hoping to replace Dani Carvajal at right-back ahead of next season and have a few potential options already lined up. That is according to El Nacional, with Man Utd's Diogo Dalot, Norwich City's Max Aarons and Pedro Porro of Sporting CP all mentioned.

- Sport claims that Barcelona are on course to wrap up contract extensions for Ronald Araujo and Gavi before the end of the month. Rising star Gavi will supposedly be offered a five-year deal that will include a mammoth release clause to ensure he stays at Camp Nou for the long term.

- Former Germany international Julian Weigl is nearing the end of his time at Benfica and has been offered to teams across the continent, according to Calciomercato. The Italian outlet suggests than Milan would prefer to sign Renato Sanches, potentially giving Roma a clear run for the €35m-rated midfielder.

Chelsea have enjoyed an unrivalled period of success across Roman Abramovich's near two decades as owner at Stamford Bridge.

From their five Premier Leagues and two Champions Leagues, plus last month's Club World Cup triumph, the Blues have won it all under the Russian billionaire.

But amid mounting political pressure following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich is reportedly open to selling Chelsea for the first time.


TOP STORY – THREE PARTIES INTERESTED IN BLUES 

According to The Telegraph, at least three parties are circling Chelsea in the belief that Abramovich is ready to walk away.

Abramovich announced on Saturday, a day before the Blues' EFL Cup final loss to Liverpool, that he is taking a step back from his duties as owner.

The report indicates that Chelsea are bracing themselves for bids as early as this week as a changing of the guard at Stamford Bridge becomes a realistic possibility.


ROUND-UP

- Manchester City have ramped up their interest in Borussia Dortmund's in-demand striker Erling Haaland, according to The Express. City chief Txiki Begiristain is said to have recently met with agent Mino Raiola to discuss the signing of Haaland.

- Ralf Rangnick has been ruled out of the running to become Manchester United's next permanent boss. The Sun claims that Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag, in charge of Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax respectively, are the two men being considered.

- Sky Sports News reports that Antonio Rudiger's representatives remain in constant dialogue with Real Madrid and PSG over an end-of-season transfer. Chelsea want to keep hold of the defender, but they have been unable to agree fresh terms. 

- According to football.london, Arsenal are eager to reward Bukayo Saka with a new deal at the end of the campaign. The England international is already under contract at Emirates Stadium until July 2024.

- Atletico Madrid midfielder Hector Herrera will see out the remainder of the 2021-22 LaLiga campaign before making the switch to Houston Dynamo in MLS, Fabrizio Romano suggests. Herrera has made 14 appearances this term and is a regular for Mexico.

Andre Onana acknowledged his "time is over in Ajax" as he seems set to move to Inter but insisted he would step in for Erik ten Hag's men this season if needed.

Onana, 25, is expected to join reigning Serie A champions Inter next season, with his current contract set to expire at the end of the current campaign.

Reports in Italy suggested the Cameroon goalkeeper underwent a medical at Simone Inzaghi's side in January ahead of a potential move.

Onana has come under scrutiny for his decision to turn down new terms with Eredivisie champions Ajax, who he joined from Barcelona in 2015.

"I did my best for this club, so I think it's important for me to look for a new challenge," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. "I believe it is my right to sign or not to sign a new contract.

"In the end, life revolves around making choices. I believe I have done a great job for this club for many years, and now I think my time at Ajax is over."

Onana returned to the team for Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Go Ahead Eagles after Remko Pasveer sustained a finger injury that could keep him out for eight weeks.

Jay Gorter, another of Ten Hag's options in goal, is also out for two weeks as Ajax prepare to face AZ in the semi-final of the KNVB Beker on Thursday.

Onana's appearance against Go Ahead Eagles was his first league outing since January 2021, but he assured he will be available whenever required for his current side.

"I'm used to playing big games; for me, it's nothing new," he added. "If I have to play, I will play; if I don't have to play, I will support the team as I always do. 

"I'm just here to help the team, and if the team needs me, I will be available – because at the end of the day, I still have a contract with Ajax."

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag acknowledged he left Benfica with "mixed feelings" after his side twice let leads slip in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.

Dusan Tadic opened the scoring at the Estadio da Luz to join Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez as the only players with 10-plus goals and assists in the competition since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A topsy-turvy four minutes then followed for Sebastian Haller, who became the first player to score a goal and an own goal in a Champions League knockout match since Dries Mertens in March 2017.

His second finish, at the right end, carried on his fine scoring form. He became just the fifth player to score in seven straight games in the Champions League, and first to find the net 11 times in his opening seven appearances.

However, a late Roman Yaremchuk header after an unconvincing Remko Pasveer save ensured the tie was left hanging in the balance at 2-2 heading into the return leg, much to Ten Hag's frustration.

He told Dutch outlet Ziggo Sport after the game: "I am here with mixed feelings because we gave away the goals too easily, while we created five clear-cut chances ourselves.

"If one of those goes in, it would be 3-1 and we would have won. You are really not going to get ten finishing chances at European level. We should have handled the opportunities better."

Ten Hag also expressed his annoyance at the defending for the second equaliser that allowed Goncalo Ramos to counter and unleash a vicious strike that Pasveer parried, with Yaremchuk heading in the follow-up.

"If you are leading 2-1, you cannot let yourself be countered," he continued. "At least one more defender should have stayed back."

Captain Dusan Tadic, who has been involved in 28 goals (10 goals, 18 assists) in just 31 appearances this season, also echoed his coach's thoughts.

"We had the chances to win. That didn't happen and that's why I'm a bit disappointed," Tadic told Dutch television channel RTL 7.

"We have to rectify this at home. I think we should have done more, especially when we were leading 2-1. Unfortunately, that did not work."

Ajax will look to make amends for squandering the advantage when they host Benfica on March 15.

Ajax twice went ahead but were held to a 2-2 draw by Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Erik ten Hag's team rifled in 20 goals in the group stages and picked up where they left off at the Estadio da Luz as Dusan Tadic struck first, before Sebastian Haller's own goal levelled things up.

Haller made amends by restoring Ajax's lead just four minutes later, becoming just the fifth player to score in seven straight games in the competition, yet Roman Yaremchuk equalised with 18 minutes remaining.
 
A hot-tempered finale did not produce a winner, with the draw leaving it all to play for in the return leg on March 15 at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.

Tadic showed composure to nudge his side ahead after 18 minutes with an expert right-footed finish into the top-right corner following Noussair Mazraoui's bouncing cross.
 
Benfica responded quickly when Jan Vertonghen's fizzing delivery cannoned off Haller into his own net, but the Ajax man atoned for his mistake shortly after.
 
The striker poked in a rebound from his own shot after smart work by Steven Berghuis, although Haller then turned wide with the goal gaping after Edson Alvarez had hit the post at the end of a frenetic first half.

A deflected Everton strike squirmed just past the upright after the interval, while Rafa's low drive evaded Darwin Nunez, who would have had a tap-in had his despairing dive made contact.

Substitute Yaremchuk restored parity, though, as he bundled a header in following Remko Pasveer's unconvincing save from Goncalo Ramos' vicious long-range strike.

Antony was then perhaps fortunate to escape a red card for an apparent headbutt on Nunez, punished only with a booking that keeps him involved in a tie that hangs in the balance heading into the second leg.

The Champions League returns on Wednesday as the first legs of the round of 16 come to an end.

Manchester United travel to the Wanda Metropolitano to face Atletico Madrid, with the visitors aiming to become just the fourth team to 500 goals in the European Cup and Champions League combined.

Erik ten Hag's Ajax thrilled in the group stages with their high-scoring and free-flowing football, and they make the trip to the Estadio da Luz to face Benfica in the other first-leg meeting.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data behind the pair of knockout fixtures in Europe's premier club competition.

Atletico Madrid v Manchester United

United and Atletico have somehow only faced each other in the same European campaign once previously, when the Spanish side were 4-1 victors on aggregate in the last 16 of the 1991-92 Cup Winners' Cup.

The Red Devils, on their only previous visit to Atletico, lost the first leg of that tie 3-0 at the old Vicente Calderon stadium against Luis Aragones' team.

Ralf Rangnick's away side will be hoping for happier returns on their next visit to Spain, where they have won just one of their last seven trips in the knockout stages of the Champions League (D4 L2).

But Diego Simeone's team have also tasted defeat in each of their last four matches against English teams in the competition, double the number of losses they suffered across their first 12 such matches (W4 D6 L2).

Atletico have won just four of their last 14 in the Champions League. Additionally, they have lost more times in their last four home games (three) than they did in across their previous 37 (two) in the competition.

The LaLiga outfit will have to contend with an old foe Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 25 goals in 35 matches against them, only managing more versus Sevilla during his entire career.

Indeed, four of the forward's club hat-tricks have come against the Spanish side, two of which have been netted in this competition – no other player has recorded more against a single opponent in Europe's top club tournament.

Benfica v Ajax

Benfica may have won the first European meeting with Ajax, a 3-1 win in the first leg of the 1968-69 European Cup quarter-finals, but they are winless in their six games against them since.

Ajax are unbeaten in their previous three away games at Benfica in the European Cup and Champions League (W1 D2), with the most recent of these coming under Ten Hag’s stewardship, a 1-1 draw in November 2018.

The reigning Eredivisie champions are unbeaten in their four meetings with Portuguese sides in the competition (W3 D1), while Benfica have won just two of their last 11 clashes with Dutch opponents across the European Cup and Champions League (D4 L5).

To reach this stage, Ten Hag's men recorded six wins from six, which is the longest winning streak by a Dutch team in the European Cup and Champions League.

Should they manage victory in Portugal, Ajax's seven-game winning run would be the longest in the history of the two competitions by a team outside of the current big five European leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain).

Sebastian Haller fired his side into the knockout stages with 10 goals in six European outings, the most by any player in his opening six matches in the competition.

Playmaker Dusan Tadic has also created more chances from open play than any other player in the competition (77) since his debut in September 2018, but Benfica will not just roll over given they have recorded clean sheets in five of their last seven Champions League games.

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