Tuesday's Champions League fixtures feature two of the tournament favourites, but there are no easy games when the competition reaches the quarter-finals.

Manchester City are the bookmakers' favourites to lift the trophy but will need to safely navigate their way past 2020-21 LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid, starting with Tuesday's first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Liverpool are right behind City in the odds, but the Reds face a tough trip to Portugal where they will play Benfica after the home side triumphed over a strong Ajax team in the previous round.

While the English teams are well fancied, the Opta facts show Atleti coach Diego Simeone should not be daunted by City boss Pep Guardiola, and Benfica's Estadio da Luz has been anything but a happy hunting ground for Liverpool.

Manchester City v Atletico Madrid

This will be the first ever meeting between City and Atleti in European competition, but the fourth between the respective bosses of the two clubs. None of the previous three games ended in a draw, as Guardiola won two and Simeone triumphed in the other.

While Simeone is down on the head-to-head record, his Atleti side eliminated Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the 2015-16 Champions League (2-2 on aggregate), progressing on away goals. 

Showing his side can win ugly, across the two legs, Atletico averaged just 27 per cent possession and scored their two goals from 18 shots, while Bayern netted the same number of goals from 53 attempts.

City should have some reliable avenues to goal, as only Vinicius Junior (44) has been directly involved in more shots than Riyad Mahrez (42 – 29 shots, 13 chances created) in the Champions League this season. 

 

One of Mahrez's chief suppliers is likely to be Kevin De Bruyne, who will make his 50th Champions League appearance for City if he plays in the first leg.

Since his first season at the club in 2015-16, he has more assists than any other player for an English club (17) in the competition. 

However, Atleti may be uniquely positioned to repel some of City's attacking firepower, as no goalkeeper has kept more Champions League clean sheets since 2014-15 than Jan Oblak, with 30 clean sheets in 67 appearances.

Meanwhile, City have only failed to score in one of their 28 home games under Guardiola.

Atleti are also the first side to face both Manchester United and Manchester City in the knockout stages of a European competition in a season since Juventus in the 1976-77 UEFA Cup – the Italian side would go on to progress from both of those ties before winning the whole thing.

 

Liverpool v Benfica 

Liverpool are aiming to win a fifth consecutive away game in Europe's premier competition for only the second time in their history, having last done so between 1983 and 1984 under Joe Fagan.

While Liverpool are a very different beast in recent years under Jurgen Klopp, they have lost on each of their last three away trips to face Benfica in European competition, with the most recent of those coming in the Europa League in 2009-10 under Rafa Benítez.

On the other hand, Benfica are winless in their past four homes matches against English sides in the Champions League since beating Liverpool in 2006, with one draw and three losses.

The home side will need a big performance from Darwin Nunez, who is Benfica’s top scorer in the Champions League this season, having netted four times so far. He is just one goal shy of equalling Nuno Gomes as the player with the most goals for Benfica in a single Champions League campaign (five goals in 1998-99).

Meanwhile, Liverpool boast one of the main hopes for the Ballon D'or in Mohamed Salah, who has scored eight goals in the Champions League this season and could become the first player to score 10+ goals in multiple seasons for the Reds in the competition. 

 

The only other player from an English club to reach double-figure goals in a European Cup/Champions League campaign on more than one occasion was Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2001-02 and 2002-03 for Manchester United.

Benfica will need to be efficient going forward, as their 40 per cent possession in the Champions League this season is the lowest of any remaining team, while only Real Madrid (23) have recorded more direct attacks than the Portuguese side.

Fabien Barthez does not believe Paris Saint-Germain are getting the best out of their team by alternating between goalkeepers Gianluigi Donnarumma and Keylor Navas.

Donnarumma signed for PSG in the off-season, as one of four remarkable free signings alongside Lionel Messi, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sergio Ramos.

It is fair to say that none of those additions have been rip-roaring successes. Messi has failed to replicate his Barcelona form and scored only seven times across all competitions, albeit that does make him PSG's second-highest goalscorer so far this season, behind Kylian Mbappe (26).

While Messi has at least provided 10 assists, Wijnaldum has only directly contributed to six goals in all competitions (three goals, three assists), creating just 11 chances for his team-mates. Due to persistent injury concerns, Ramos has made just five appearances in total, playing 284 minutes.

Donnarumma, meanwhile, has had to vie with Navas for a place as PSG's first-choice goalkeeper.

The Euro 2020-winning shot-stopper did not make his Ligue 1 debut until September 11, and has started on just 12 occasions in France's top flight, having been a substitute in another 12 league games.

Two further appearances have come for Donnarumma in the Coupe de France, but the latter game saw PSG eliminated on penalties by Nice. The 23-year-old has played in five Champions League matches, but was culpable for Karim Benzema's first goal on March 9 as Mauricio Pochettino's team capitulated against Real Madrid in the last 16.

In the opinion of Barthez, who played a pivotal role in France's 1998 World Cup triumph, having two top-quality goalkeepers at the club is actually backfiring on PSG.

"I respect coaches a lot, I respect Pochettino a lot and I know how difficult this job is, but putting two goalkeepers of this level in competition [with each other] does not serve the team," he told L'Equipe.

"What message are you sending to your goalkeepers? What psychological dispositions do you place them in? Who do you really trust for big games? What do outfield players say to each other?

"You instil doubt in everyone and then, it's the competition that makes you progress, not the training. A guy like Donnarumma - or Navas for that matter - he has to play. What happened [against Madrid] is the consequence of all that."

Donnarumma has made 61 saves, 10 fewer than Navas' 71, across 19 games in all competitions, although the Italy international has registered a better save percentage compared to his Costa Rican counterpart (78.2 in contrast to 76.9).

When taking goals prevented into account, based on Opta's expected goals on target conceded (xGOT) model, Donnarumma also has a clear edge, having prevented a total of 4.8 goals in comparison to Navas' figure of 2.8.

Essentially, Donnarumma's saves have prevented a further two goals than those of Navas, and Barthez has backed the former Milan goalkeeper to improve.

However, he believes Donnarumma "lacked humility" when he made the mistake that allowed Benzema to kick-start a comeback that dashed PSG's Champions League hopes at the Bernabeu.

"I adore him, I have observed his performances for a long time. But on this one, he also lacked humility," Barthez added. 

"But, in a way, what happened to him makes sense. He wins the Euro, he is full of confidence, he arrives in Paris and we put him in competition with Navas."

Thomas Tuchel denied Chelsea's upcoming Champions League clash with Real Madrid provided a distraction after watching his team fall to a 4-1 loss to Brentford on Saturday.

The Blues opened the scoring three minutes after half-time through Antonio Rudiger, but a stunning Brentford comeback condemned them to their first Premier League defeat since January 15, as Christian Eriksen and Yoane Wissa added to Vitaly Janelt's brace.

Chelsea's remarkable collapse saw them concede four or more goals at home to a newly promoted side for just the second time in Premier League history, with the previous occasion also coming under Tuchel's management in a 5-2 loss to West Bromwich Albion in April 2021.

With the European champions due to host Madrid in a huge quarter-final contest on Wednesday, Tuchel made four changes to his side, but was adamant that nobody at Stamford Bridge had looked any further ahead than their clash with the Bees.

"We selected the team because we thought it was the best team against Brentford," Tuchel insisted. "Not with half an eye, or one percent of one, on Real Madrid.

"It's more difficult for us than them to play as the underdog and be well prepared for this match. We are well prepared, but had one half of a training session [after the return of Chelsea's internationals].

"It is more difficult, but in the context of all this I am okay with the first half. The half-time speech was like this, a reminder to keep on going.

"We started very well [in the second half]. I did not see the distraction there, so why should we be distracted and think about Real Madrid when we are one goal ahead?

"Maybe it was the general feeling that now we are ahead and have it [which led to the turnaround], and we got punished for that."

Brentford's stunning triumph represents the joint-biggest away Premier League victory managed by a newly promoted team against a side starting the day in the top three of the table, alongside Leeds United's 3-0 win at Aston Villa in October 2020.

Despite accusing his team of having "stopped defending" in the immediate aftermath of the defeat, Tuchel said he would not make a "drama" of the shock result, putting it down as a one-off.

"It seems like it [a blip]," he added. "After so many wins and so many good results, I will now refuse to make a drama out of it. 

"Why should we? Brentford made a lot of the ten minutes we gave them. After the third goal, we had a disallowed goal, a pressing situation against the goalkeeper, and another big chance from Kai Havertz. 

"We missed all three of them and there was a feeling that it wasn't our day, so it's a mixture of everything. 

"We will dig in and try to find out why it was like this. It's hard to take because it's very unusual for us, what happened today. [But] we will refocus on Monday."

Thibaut Courtois is relishing what he hopes will be a "special" return to Stamford Bridge when Real Madrid face Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

Madrid recovered from two goals down on aggregate to beat Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, while the Blues saw off reigning Ligue 1 champions Lille 4-1.

The sides were subsequently paired together in the last eight in a repeat of last year's semi-final, which Chelsea won 3-1 over two legs en route to lifting the trophy.

Courtois played in both matches, albeit with the home tie staged at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano and the away leg behind closed doors in London due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chelsea are set to play in front of a packed house for Madrid's latest visit next Wednesday, though, after sanctions that prevented them from selling tickets were amended.

Blues fans were not happy with the way Courtois departed, but the goalkeeper is focusing more on the two Premier League titles and two domestic cups he won with the club.

"It will be special," he said on his 'Thibaut Talks' podcast. "Last year we lost in the semis and hopefully this year there will be a victory. 

"This year it will be different because it will be with the public. It will be special and although there may be some whistles, I hope that people remember the beautiful moments. 

"We won two leagues, one FA Cup... For me, Chelsea is a special team that helped me to be the goalkeeper that I am now.

"They bought me when I was 18 years old and gave me the opportunity to be at Atletico, to play in the Premier League and win it. 

"It's an important team and I have many friends there. It's always a pleasure to face them again."

Should they go through, Chelsea will become the first English team to eliminate Madrid from the Champions League on multiple occasions.

Los Blancos have faced Chelsea more times without ever winning than they have against any other side in European competition (five), drawing twice and losing three times.

Thiago Alcantara is relishing the most "exciting" month of his career as Liverpool prepare for a crunch April schedule.

Jurgen Klopp's side face eight matches in April as they strive to pull off an unprecedented quadruple. 

The Reds are in the hunt for the Premier League title, the FA Cup and Champions League glory after lifting the EFL Cup.

They face leaders Manchester City in the Premier League and an FA Cup semi-final against Pep Guardiola's side following two Champions League quarter-final showdowns with Benfica.

Spain midfielder Thiago is excited about playing in so many matches with so much at stake.

"The other day I was talking with some friends about it," he told the club's official website.

"I never had, in the years that I have been involved in football, I never had a month so exciting like this with such important and exciting matches every three days. So it will be amazing.

"For sure it is exciting because you are competing against the best, in the best competitions as well, but also because it reminds you that we are in finals. 

"It looks like a World Cup, a European Cup, where every game is a final. With that we are in a one-mission mood and we are there."

Liverpool can go top of the table if they avoid defeat to Watford at Anfield on Sunday, with City travelling to Burnley later in the day.

Thiago does not believe that would give the Merseyside club a psychological boost in the title race.

"No, I don’t think so," he added. "I don’t think to see us on top before City plays would be a boost.

"No, it’s just that we are in a moment where every three points count and we are really glad to arrive at this position and fight and depend on us."

The proposed European Super League project will not be revived, according to chairman of the European Club Association Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

After trying to set up a breakaway competition last year, a number of Europe's top clubs were left red-faced when forced to shelve the plans just 72 hours later after widespread backlash within the game.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus remain determined to resurrect the concept, but Al-Khelaifi has questioned that possibility.

All 12 founding Super League clubs quit the ECA in April before the quick collapse of the new competition amid supporter protests and opposition from governing bodies, though nine (Milan, Arsenal, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Inter, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham) were eventually welcomed back after backtracking.

Speaking at a media conference at the ECA general assembly in Vienna on Tuesday, the chairman was asked about the potential threat of another Super League attempt, and responded sharply: "The non-Super League, it doesn't exist. Not the first, not the second.

"Everybody is against it. From the fans, media, clubs, small and big clubs. There are three only [who want a Super League] and the strange thing is they are also now enjoying playing UEFA club competitions.

"If they are enjoying it, that means they are playing in the best competitions, so I don't think there is a potential for them to do something like [resurrect the Super League proposal].

"Here at the ECA, we found our unity in 2021 – how we'll be together, working as one family and looking after each other. I think that's the main goal and we've done it.

"Now we're looking at the potential and what we can do in 2022, one of these is the increased value of UEFA competitions, proving at every single angle that [the three clubs are] wrong and that we're going to grow bigger and bigger."

Al Khelaifi – who is president of Paris Saint-Germain – also reiterated the ECA's position on FIFA's proposals for biennial World Cups.

"As you know, the position of the ECA is it's against it, and we will stand against it always," he clarified. "For us, it's not an idea, basically, so I don't think we need to discuss it even."

Paul Pogba has revealed that his World Cup winner's medal was among the items stolen when his home was burgled last week.   Pogba's house was broken into while he was playing for Manchester United in a 1-0 Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid last Tuesday.   The France international said the intruders were in his property for five minutes while his children were asleep in their bedroom.   Pogba says the incident was his family's "worse nightmare" and revealed he rushed home following United's Champions League exit "not knowing if our children were safe and unharmed."   The midfielder has now revealed that the medal won for Les Bleus' World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago was taken.   He told L'Equipe: "There were jewels from my mother, my world champion medal. What scared me the most was that my two children were at home with the nanny during this incident.   "She overheard everything, called my wife and security, then locked herself with the boys in a room. For several days, she was shocked. The main thing is that my children are well."   Pogba is currently away on international duty for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

 

Paul Pogba has opened up on suffering from bouts of depression during his playing career.

The World Cup winner became the most expensive footballer on the planet for a period when Manchester United re-signed him from Juventus back in August 2016.

Pogba has bore the brunt of criticism at time for the Red Devils' inconsistent performances, with the 29-year-old having not won a major honour with United since collecting winners' medals in the EFL Cup and Europa League in 2017.

Speaking to La Figaro while on international duty with France, Pogba revealed he has had to contend with personal issues away from the pitch.

"I've had depression in my career, but we don't talk about it," he said.

"Sometimes you don't know you are, you just want to isolate yourself, be alone. These are unmistakable signs."

Pogba went on to say he noticed his struggles beginning during Jose Mourinho's time as manager at United.

The two endured a reportedly rocky relationship when the Portuguese was in charge at Old Trafford, with Pogba losing the vice-captaincy in September 2018.

"Personally, it started when I was with Jose Mourinho at United," Pogba added.

"You ask yourself questions, you wonder if you are at fault because you have never experienced these moments in your life."

Pogba added the personal riches and acclaim that come from being a professional footballer does not stop players from going through difficult times.

He said: "All top athletes go through these moments but few talk about it. Inevitably, you will feel it [depression] in your body, in your head, and you may have a month, even a year, where you are not well. But you don't have to say it. In any case publicly.

"We earn a lot of money and we don't complain really, but that doesn't prevent us from going through moments that are more difficult than others, like everyone else in life.

"Because you make money, you always have to be happy? It's not like that, life. But, in football, it does not pass, we are however not superheroes, but only human beings."

Thomas Tuchel says he wants Chelsea to be the side that everyone aims to avoid heading into the Champions League quarter-finals.

The reigning champions kept their title defence on track on Wednesday by advancing to the last eight with a 4-1 aggregate victory over Lille.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg at Stamford Bridge three weeks ago, Tuchel's side fell behind at Stade Pierre-Mauroy to a Burak Yilmaz penalty.

However, Christian Pulisic responded in first-half stoppage time, before Cesar Azpilicueta completed the turnaround with 19 minutes remaining.

Tuchel is hopeful his side will have the fear factor in the quarter-final draw, which takes place on Friday.

The head coach also heaped praise on skipper Azpilicueta, whose last Champions League goal also came against Lille back in December 2019.

"I want us to be the team nobody wants to play," Tuchel said. "That's the role we want to see ourselves in this last eight.

"[Azpilicueta] is maybe the perfect example to describe a person as a leader. He is doing it in good times and bad times, if he is a regular starter or not. 

"If he is playing a wing-back, which is maybe not his best position, he is there. We do not need extra, extra at the moment; we just need reliable teamwork and reliable spirit.

"I don't know if Azpi is talking to the players; I just know he is doing what he normally does."

Chelsea are back in action on Sunday, when they travel to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

The build-up to the tie was dominated by the club requesting that home supporters also be blocked from attending the Riverside, after restrictions imposed following the sanctioning of owner Roman Abramovich rendered them unable to sell any tickets beyond the 600 already sold from their away allocation.

The Blues subsequently withdrew the request, which had been met with widespread ridicule and opposition, with Tuchel also welcoming that decision.

"We love to play in front of spectators and I don't think the spectators of our opponents should suffer from the consequences," he added. "We love to play in front of spectators. 

"Me and the team were not involved in this decision. We were happy it was withdrawn."

Manchester United star Paul Pogba is offering a reward for information after his home was burgled on Tuesday.

The burglary took place while the midfielder was appearing in the second leg of United's Champions League last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford.

In a statement posted on his social media channels, Pogba revealed he subsequently rushed home "not knowing if our children were safe and unharmed."

The France international said the intruders were in his home for five minutes while his children were asleep in their bedroom.

Juventus were dumped out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the third consecutive season after a dismal 3-0 second-leg defeat to Villarreal on Wednesday. 

The two sides drew 1-1 in the first leg in Spain three weeks ago and Juve looked the more likely side to progress to the quarter-finals for much of the match at the Allianz Stadium. 

Unai Emery's side produced a sensational final 12 minutes, though, sealing a memorable win thanks to penalties from Gerard Moreno and Arnaut Danjuma either side of Pau Torres' close-range finish. 

Massimiliano Allegri's men looked crestfallen at the end as their 12-game unbeaten run came to an end in spectacular circumstances.

 

Marcus Rashford has hit back after a video emerged on social media of the Manchester United forward reacting to fans outside Old Trafford following the Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid. 

United were beaten 1-0 in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie against the Spanish side on Tuesday, losing 2-1 on aggregate. 

The video posted after the game appeared to show Rashford confronting a supporter who had heckled him outside the stadium, and the England international has denied that he raised his middle finger to fans. 

Rashford posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday along with the words "There are 2 sides to every story." 

He wrote: "A video can paint a thousand words and in this case lead to inaccurate info being shared on social media. 

"Guys, for weeks I've been heckled, threatened, questioned and last night my emotion got the better of me. I'm a human being. 

"Reading and hearing that stuff about yourself every day, it wears you down. No one is more critical of my performance than me. But what you see in this video lacks context. I had been heckled from the minute I stepped foot outside the ground, abuse not just aimed at my football. 

"People were looking for a reaction from me. Phones were at the ready. Of course, I should have walked straight past and ignored it, that's what we're supposed to do right? 

"I want to clarify two things. The first being what I actually said to the man throwing abuse at me which [was] 'come over here and say it to my face' (a fact security can back up) and secondly, the fact I used my forefinger to direct the fan to 'come over and say it to my face'. I did not gesture with my middle finger. 

"I'm not entitled. This isn't ego. I'm upset. I'm disappointed. And in that moment it was silly but I was being human." 

Rashford has struggled for form this season, scoring five goals in 26 appearances in all competitions (15 starts), and came on as a 67th-minute substitute in the Atletico defeat. 

They say you should never judge a player on one good international tournament.

In fairness, when Bayern Munich splashed out a reported €35million on an 18-year-old Renato Sanches in 2016, he had already impressed at Benfica, but it was his showings at Euro 2016 for eventual winners Portugal that sped up the hype train.

Just over a year later, he was struggling to get game time during a loan move at Swansea City.

Sanches' star had fallen almost as quickly as it had risen, and after being unable to establish himself at Bayern, the midfielder made the move to Lille in 2019.

At the French side he finally settled and became a crucial part of Christophe Galtier's underdogs, who impressively beat Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title.

Sanches followed up his championship medal with another comeback, standing out as one of the best players again at Euro 2020.

As football never seems to learn its lessons, hype rebuilt around Sanches following his performances for Portugal in last year's rescheduled tournament, and the 24-year-old has been linked with a transfer to one of Europe's elite pretty much ever since.

Clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been mooted as possible destinations, but recent reports suggest that Milan could be where Sanches takes the next step of his journey, and potentially where he could finally fulfil that much-discussed potential.

Although Lille have failed to come close to defending their title this season, Sanches has continued to impress when available.

He has played 25 games in all competitions (21 starts), registering one goal and five assists, three more than any other Lille midfielder.

Sanches has completed 57 dribbles, with Jonathan Ikone – more of a forward player and who moved to Fiorentina in January – completing the next most at the club this season (38), and he has created as many big chances (eight) as Ikone having played the same number of games. A big chance is defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score.

Comparing the same numbers to Milan's midfield, he has created twice as many big chances as the Rossoneri's most creative players (Sandro Tonali and Alexis Saelemaekers – four), and only Saelemaekers has completed more dribbles (58), albeit from more appearances. Sanches averages more completed dribbles than the Belgian per 90 minutes (3.01 to 2.51).

One assumption would be that Sanches has been earmarked to replace Franck Kessie, who appears likely to be leaving San Siro when his contract expires at the end of the season, though the two are not all that similar as players.

Kessie has six goals this season, two from the penalty spot, but just one assist, and has only created two big chances. Sanches also makes far more dribbles, attempting 91 compared to 38 from Kessie.

Sanches has made almost as many recoveries as the Ivory Coast international (146 to 158) but has attempted fewer tackles than all of Milan's midfielders (20), with the lowest tackle success rate (45 per cent).

His pass success percentage is also worse than Kessie's (81.77 to 88.73). You might think that could be down to the intent of those passes, but Kessie is even more comfortably ahead when it comes to pass success percentage in the opposition half (75.53 to 85.53).

Sanches, of course, plays in a different league, and so how do his numbers compare in this season's Champions League?

While it must be noted that Lille had an easier time of things in the group stages than Milan, who went up against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, Sanches did seem to shine on the big stage more than Stefano Pioli's current crop.

Only Ismael Bennacer (39) made more recoveries than Sanches' 38, having played a game more, while no-one at the Serie A side attempted as many as his 209 passes, and none won possession in the opposition's final third more than him (four).

Milan suffered elimination in their group, while Lille won theirs and put up a respectable fight against Chelsea in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash at Stamford Bridge.

Sanches in particular looked good again, though he was unable to prevent the Premier League side taking a 2-0 lead over with them to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, where Sanches sadly will not play after picking up a muscle injury in the 0-0 draw with Saint-Etienne on Friday.

"Renato Sanches underwent tests this morning following the injury contracted on Friday during the match between LOSC and AS Saint-Etienne," read a statement from Lille. "The midfielder has suffered an injury to the biceps femoris muscle in his left thigh.

"His unavailability is estimated at three weeks, depending on the clinical evolution of his injury."

And this is arguably the thing that has held Sanches back more than anything, his injury record.

For context, at the age of just 24, he already has two pages of injuries listed on his injury history on Transfermarkt, the vast majority of which have been muscle issues that just do not seem to go away.

In terms of what he has shown on the field in the past couple of years, Sanches seems more than ready for another shot at an elite club.

Whether he can stay fit long enough to do so is another matter.

Ralf Rangnick's tenure as Manchester United interim manager has not been a resounding success.

While United have climbed from seventh in the Premier League when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked to fifth, closing the gap to the top four from six points to one, fourth-placed Arsenal have three games in hand and should expect to qualify for the Champions League.

United's hopes of returning to Europe's elite club competition next year – by which time Rangnick will likely have moved upstairs – might instead rest on success in this year's tournament.

Atletico Madrid visit Old Trafford on Wednesday with their last-16 tie level at 1-1, apparently finely balanced – although the first leg was anything but. United were hugely fortunate to escape with a draw after lacking any real fluency in Spain.

Real Madrid great Cristiano Ronaldo will still no doubt be eagerly anticipating this match following his Tottenham hat-trick, but repeating those heroics represents a tall order. He will need help – and the manager's job is to provide that.

Although Rangnick has so far failed to deliver a coherent side able to produce consistent performances, that is not to say there have not been success stories of his reign.

And perhaps Jadon Sancho, who is definitely one of those, can be the man to lift United and their talisman this week.

Sancho is now finding form after a tough start to life at Old Trafford that was somewhat overshadowed by the various other issues United have faced this season, both before and since Solskjaer's sacking.

At another club, Sancho's struggles would have been front and centre, as he remarkably failed to contribute either a goal or an assist in 14 appearances for Solskjaer in all competitions.

That was certainly not what United envisaged when they paid £73million for an England winger whose 107 goal involvements (50 goals, 57 assists) for Borussia Dortmund arrived every 93 minutes on average.

There would have been relief then when Sancho was the star of Michael Carrick's short stint as caretaker, following his first United goal at Villarreal with a second at Chelsea.

Yet more than two months passed before Sancho scored again, kickstarting a vastly improved spell under Rangnick – a coach belatedly having the transformative effect on the 21-year-old many had forecast.

Rangnick's preference for a pressing game was expected to suit Sancho, whose Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season allowed the fifth-fewest opposition passes per defensive action (PPDA – 11.0) and won the fourth-most high turnovers (329).

Under Solskjaer, United ranked a passive 14th in PPDA (14.4), yet that statistic has not altered as drastically as one might have imagined; since Rangnick's appointment, United are 12th (13.3).

Others who have flourished under Rangnick have still done so by leading the press – Fred (51.8) and Anthony Elanga (51.2) rank first and second for Premier League pressures per 90 by United players since the interim boss came in – whereas the speed of United's attacking once they win possession has suited Sancho.

Opta defines a direct attack as "an open play sequence that starts just inside the team's own half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition's goal, and ends in a shot or a touch in the opposition box".

Since the start of February, United have scored four league goals from such attacks – twice as many as any other side. Sancho has been involved in all four, striking on the break against both Southampton and Manchester City while laying on assists for Bruno Fernandes and Fred at Leeds United.

The goal at City may have counted for little on a dark day for United, but Sancho has been flying since scoring on his return to the team against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on February 4, having been granted a period of leave following a death in his family.

"Jadon Sancho is now getting closer to the Jadon Sancho I've known from Germany," Rangnick said at the weekend. "In the end it's all about confidence. Game time, confidence. Confidence, game time. He was performing at a very high level."

He added: "This is what he should be. The club paid quite a few pounds for him in order to lure him away from Borussia Dortmund, and if you pay that amount of money in a transfer fee for a player, he should perform on this kind of level."

Rangnick was speaking after the win against Tottenham, where there was finally a goal courtesy of his combination play with Ronaldo.

It was suggested earlier in the season the pair could not work together – and the woes of both Sancho and United might agree with that argument – but the rapid run in behind and pinpoint square pass for the second of Ronaldo's three goals were evidence of how this attack can succeed.

Ronaldo can continue to thrive with that sort of service, while Sancho only looks better for having a focal point to play off in the mould of former Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland.

Now, with 13 goals in his past 15 home games against Atletico, including two hat-tricks in the last four, do not bet against Ronaldo proving the difference again on Tuesday. Also, do not bet against Sancho being the man to supply him.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone hopes to cause Manchester United "vertigo" when his team travel to Old Trafford for the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago ended 1-1 after a late equaliser from substitute Anthony Elanga cancelled out Joao Felix's first-half header.

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.

They have also not kept a clean sheet in any of their eight away games against English teams in the competition, conceding 14 goals overall, but Simeone believes United could struggle as the home team. 

"We will press high," he told reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference. “It will be the classic type of match you expect in a game like this – the vertigo you sometimes suffer when you play at home.

"I think we have the opportunity to hit on the counter to capitalise on any errors they make. We are really up for the game and will do the best we can."

Atletico eliminated Liverpool in the 2019-20 Champions League at the round of 16 stage, winning the second leg 3-2 at Anfield after extra-time, but Simeone insists the game at Old Trafford is separate and the previous success England will have no bearing on the outcome.

"They are different games, we know the importance of the rival we are going to face tomorrow and the danger they have, but we are confident," he added.

 

Marcos Llorente, who scored twice in the win at Liverpool in 2019, said he and his team-mates are confident ahead of the game, but stressed they must be careful with Cristiano Ronaldo around.

Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in United's 3-2 win against Tottenham on Saturday, and 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 the Champions League).

"When you have players like that, you always need to be on your guard," Llorente said. "They have some other great players that play at a really high level and have to be aware of all of them."

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