Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick insists UEFA's decision to move the Champions League final from St Petersburg was correct amid the ongoing "human disaster" in Ukraine.

Russia began an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on Thursday and the attack continued into Friday, with reports suggesting the fighting reached the capital of Kiev early in the afternoon.

Many countries around the world have imposed sanctions on Russia, as well as Russian entities and individuals in an attempt to disrupt the attack.

Similar measures have been taken in the sporting world, with United announcing Russian airline Aeroflot had been dropped from the club's list of major sponsors, while UEFA stripped St Petersburg of host responsibilities for this season's Champions League final.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) denounced the decision, accusing UEFA of failing to detach sport from politics as the showpiece event was moved to the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris.

But Rangnick, whose United side drew 1-1 with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday, believes it was the only decision.

"The situation is desperately sad," said Rangnick, who worked in the Russian capital with Lokomotiv Moscow before joining United.

"I think everybody will think similarly about that, it's just an incredible situation that we have a kind of war in Europe. And therefore, the decision UEFA took was inevitable and it was the right decision.

"I think everybody has the same opinion about what's happening there. This is just a human disaster, what is happening there for all the people involved.

"Right now, as far as I can tell, the situation in Russia and in Moscow is still safe but this doesn't change anything about the whole situation, which is desperately sad. When I still watch TV in the morning and the evening I still cannot believe what I see there.

"This is just a terrible situation and I very, very much hope the politicians all over the world can help to deescalate the situation and finish those kinds of things that are happening there."

Ralf Rangnick has revealed Anthony Elanga almost left Manchester United on loan in January, after the teenager rescued a Champions League draw against Atletico Madrid.

The winger came off the bench to score an 80th-minute equaliser at the Wanda Metropolitano, after Joao Felix had originally opened the scoring for Diego Simeone's side.

Elanga's finish means both sides head into the return leg at Old Trafford on level terms, but Rangnick has now indicated he almost did not have the Sweden Under-21 international at his disposal.

The German stated Elanga had his heart set on more first-team minutes away from the club before he was convinced to stay after the former's arrival.

"Of course, I had heard about his name before [I joined] but I didn't know him as a player because he didn't play for Manchester United [the first team]," Rangnick said.

"On the first training session, the night before the Crystal Palace game, he was the player with the best training performance, so I asked my colleagues and my staff members about him and then found out he had almost already decided to leave the club on loan.

"He came on against Palace as we all know and the week after I said, 'Listen, I want you stay and see how you do, how you are doing in training and the games until the closure of the transfer window'.

"I think right now he has just shown what is possible in football with the right mentality, the right approach to go into games. This is exactly what he did and what he always does in every training session."

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Elanga found his chances severely limited across the first half of the campaign, with the winger squeezed out of any senior game-time bar a 17-minute cameo against West Ham in United's EFL Cup exit in September.

Since Rangnick took the reins, however, he has found himself a regular presence among the senior squad, making 13 appearances across all competitions.

Having stolen the show late on for a flagging United side in Madrid, Elanga will hope to feature when they return to Premier League action this weekend against Watford, whose 4-1 win over the Red Devils in November spelled the end for Solskjaer's time as manager.

Ralf Rangnick was left frustrated with his side's first-half display against Atletico Madrid, as he called on Manchester United's players to follow the example set by Anthony Elanga.

The teenager scored five minutes after coming on from the bench at Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday, and netted with United's first shot on target to snatch a 1-1 draw against last season's LaLiga champions.

United had lived a charmed life in the first half, though Atleti only managed one attempt on target throughout the match – Joao Felix's seventh-minute opener. Marcos Llorente hit the bar shortly before the interval when it seemed easier to score at the back post.

Elanga's equaliser in the 80th minute marked United's 500th goal in the European Cup/Champions League and, at 19 years and 302 days, he became the club's youngest goalscorer in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

It came with his first touch of the ball – Elanga capitalising on Reinildo's mistake to latch onto Bruno Fernandes' pass and slot a finish beyond the poorly positioned Jan Oblak, who had to save from Jesse Lingard late on.

"He's playing as if a dream has come true, it's joy and fun to watch him play. I wish a few other players would take him as an example, almost a role model," Rangnick told BT Sport when asked about Elanga.

"Not because he's doing everything right, but he's enjoying himself on the pitch, and we know that's what it's all about. Football is a ball game, you have to enjoy yourself on the pitch. This is what I envision in the future and when we play [Atleti] again in a couple of weeks."

Although, Elanga's display was one of the only bright spots for a disappointed Rangnick, who can nevertheless prepare for the second leg with the tie all square.

He said: "After the performance in the first half, it could only get better. 

"I still cannot believe what we did. We played without conviction, all the necessary aggression without the ball. In the second half, we had more possession in areas that mattered; had we played another 10 minutes, we might have won the game. 

"Against the ball and with the ball, we were far too apprehensive. We didn't take any risks with the ball; just played the ball in our own half, without any deep runs, verticality.

"It's difficult against a team like Atletico. [It was] a difficult goal to prevent I must say, but we have to be more aggressive, play with more conviction and do what we did in the last couple of weeks.

"The way that we scored the goal was a deep run, a fantastic pass, [we] won the ball in the centre of the pitch; this is how we have to play."

Fernandes' assist means the Portugal international became the first player in Champions League history to set up at least one goal in six successive appearances while playing for an English club, breaking the record held by United great David Beckham in 1998.

Elanga, who netted against Leeds United on Sunday, took the pass in his stride and dispatched a cool finish across Oblak following Reinildo's slip.

"[I] think it was my first touch as well," a beaming Elanga remarked in his BT Sport interview.

"I have dreamt of moments like this, scoring in the Champions League against top European teams like Atletico Madrid, [it is] a dream come true. It is only [the] first half; we have to be ready for the second half at Old Trafford.

"I told you how calm and cool I am and whenever I am given an opportunity, I want to repay the manager and give 150 per cent every time I step onto the pitch.

"I just do what I can do, I want to be the best player on the pitch and I appreciate the boss."

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.

Fred suggested Manchester United must develop a long-term plan for success, while the midfielder called for clarity on who will be the next permanent manager at Old Trafford.

United have lost just one of 14 Premier League games since Ralf Rangnick was placed in interim charge following the dismissal of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

That upturn in form leaves the Red Devils fourth in the league after a 4-2 win at Leeds United on Sunday, four points clear of Champions League chasers Arsenal and West Ham United.

Fred was on target in the victory at Elland Road, but the Brazil international believes a solution must be found for the benefit of United in the longer term.

"It's a bit strange," Fred told TNT Sports Brasil of working under an interim manager. "I know in football it's important to get good results as soon as possible, but it's also important to have a long-term plan.

"I think it's a little bad for us not to have one, at the moment it's all about the short-term goals. We don't know how it's going to be after the end of this season."

Rangnick has repeatedly reiterated that his focus is to secure Champions League qualification next term by finishing in the Premier League's top four.

The German manager has already agreed to stay on as a consultant after his short-term managerial role comes to its conclusion at the end of the season, with Mauricio Pochettino and Zinedine Zidane reported targets for United on a permanent basis.

But the immediate attention will turn to the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, and Fred suggested the Red Devils are capable of winning the competition.

"I know we're not playing our best football, but we have a lot of quality names in our squad," he added. "I see many other teams playing far off from their best as well.

"[To win it] it wouldn't be crazy, it could happen, but we have to work our socks off because we're far away from being one of the favourites in this competition."

Ralf Rangnick has heaped praise upon his opposite number Diego Simeone ahead of Manchester Untied's Champions League first-leg clash with Atletico Madrid. 

Rangnick, who is taking charge of just the third Champions League knockout tie of his career after reaching the semi-finals with Schalke in 2010-11, was rewarded for guiding the Red Devils to top of Group F with a trip to the Wanda Metropolitano. 

Despite winning LaLiga last season, Atletico have endured a difficult campaign domestically, and are currently fighting with a rejuvenated Barcelona for a place in Spain's top four.

Atletico have also lost each of their last four Champions League meetings with English opposition, but Rangnick was keen to emphasise Simeone's achievements in Madrid, stressing that United will have to match their hosts both mentally and physically if they are to stand a chance of progressing.

"He has won trophies with a clear identity, with a recognisable style", Rangnick said of Simeone. "I don't think this has changed in the last few years. 

"They are always an emotional side, and this reflects the character of the manager. Simeone is probably one of the best emotional managers in Europe. 

"The style and the way his teams have always performed reflects those emotions that he brings to the team. We need to match those levels of energy and emotion in both games. 

"It will be physical, it will be emotional, and we will have to be mentally strong. I will try to prepare our team for that challenge."

Rangnick has only lost one of his 15 games since taking the reins at United, but a recent FA Cup exit plus draws against Burnley and Southampton brought renewed criticism of the Red Devils' performances.

However, attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes has defended their displays, as he aims to fire United to their 500th goal in the history of the European Cup and Champions League.


"I think the team has been playing well even, in the games we didn't win", Fernandes, who scored in Sunday's dramatic 4-2 win at Leeds United, said.

"Obviously when you don't get the result, it's not perfect. Winning games [makes] you feel more confident. 

"Going into this game, which is an important one, we know that having the confidence of winning games gives you something more. If we stick from the plan from the first to the last minute, we can win the game."

Fernandes has the most goal involvements (15) of any Manchester United player in the Premier League this season, and has recorded the most assists (five) of any player in the Champions League this term, but is yet to find the net in Europe himself this campaign.

Edinson Cavani will miss the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie between Manchester United and Atletico Madrid.

The striker is still being troubled by a groin problem, having missed the Red Devils' past three Premier League matches.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick said the Uruguay international has been unable to train for two weeks and does not feel capable of running at full capacity, meaning there is little point in including him in the squad for Wednesday's match.

"No, Edi will not be able to make the trip," he told reporters on Tuesday. "He didn't train and hasn't been training for the last couple of weeks.

"He has problems with his groin and as long as he doesn't feel ready to fully sprint, it doesn't make sense to train him."

Cavani has scored two goals in 11 games in a season blighted by persistent unavailability.

Having been persuaded to stay at the club for another year by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after impressing in 2020-21, Cavani has missed 20 of United's 35 matches in all competitions, last playing in the 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 8.

United allowed Anthony Martial to join Sevilla on loan in January but did not sign a replacement, meaning 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo will be their only recognised centre-forward for the game at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The Portugal star has scored 25 goals in 35 appearances against Atleti in his career, netting three hat-tricks against Diego Simeone's side, two in the Champions League.

Rangnick, whose side battled to a 4-2 league win at Leeds United on Sunday, said: "We have made sure the players could recover in the last few days and maybe we will have some fresh legs on the pitch. We will see tomorrow.

"Some of our players will not be received with the red carpet. We have some experience and some talented young players, so the balance is perfect.

"Mentally, we need to prepare for a very emotional, if not hostile, atmosphere. I don't think the game or the fixture will be decided tomorrow, it will be decided in the second leg at Old Trafford.

Manchester United's season will be defined over the next month, according to former Red Devils captain Gary Neville.

United defeated Leeds United 4-2 on Sunday to extend their advantage over fifth-placed West Ham to four points as the top-four race for Champions League qualification continues to twist and turn.

Arsenal are down in sixth, also four points behind United, but the Gunners boast three games in hand heading into the crunch period of the Premier League campaign.

With trips to Manchester City and Liverpool to come in March, sandwiched by a home clash with Tottenham, Neville believes the upcoming month will be pivotal for Ralf Rangnick's side.

Speaking on his Sky Sports podcast, Neville said: "They are playing Atletico Madrid away on Wednesday; they have got Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City coming up.

"It is a big month and that month is going to define the season in terms of finishing in the top four and progressing in the Champions League.

"There is a lot of stuff coming out on a continuous basis: the captaincy, who they want as the next manager, cliques in the dressing room. 

"All that sort of stuff comes out, but they do continue to keep having those big moments in matches where their brilliant players can still deliver for them and they do win games in moments.

"They have got to stop those mad moments, those five-minute periods where they concede two goals, because if you concede two against City, Liverpool or Atletico, you are out of the game.

"Manchester United needed these points in the bag. It is inconceivable that, coming out of Tottenham at home, Manchester City away and Liverpool away that they are going to get seven to nine points. 

"They could easily come out of those three games with four points or five points or three points - you don't know. They are the type of games in any season over the last five or 10 years you could lose.

"If you are Ralf Rangnick, you have got to plan that you are going to drop points in those three matches, not that you would foresee it or want it, but it could happen. 

"These points that he has got from these last few matches will be needed. If you had said to me when Rangnick took over with the run of fixtures that they have got, this is where I would have wanted them to have been, maybe a point or two in front. 

"I still don't think it is plain-sailing and I still think it could turn quite quickly as I don't think it is stable behind the scenes at all."

Rangnick was appointed in the wake of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's departure from Old Trafford, with the German arriving on an interim basis with an agreement for a two-year consultancy role after.

There were some suggestions that Rangnick could continue in charge after the 2021-22 campaign, but Neville insisted that United will have a new manager in place for the following season.

"I don't think he gets the job at the end of the season, come what may, now," he added. 

"Maybe there was a feeling at the beginning that it could happen; that isn't going to happen. Manchester United will have a new manager next season.

"He will have a say in who gets the job because what he has got is a real good view of the characters, personalities, performance levels and training levels of the current group of players so he is in a strong position to advise. 

"He is probably in the strongest position to advise because he is having day-to-day contact with them. He is seeing how they cope with disappointment, how they cope with atmospheres, how they cope with big games, how they cope with training; can they meet the demands of the club? Have they got the quality?

"People say he is a sporting director and a coach, but the reality is that his position as a coach is short-term; his position as assisting the club, constructing their new methodology and structure moving forward is a longer term position for two years. 

"I'd rather him get that bit right; I'd rather suffer in the short-term for the longer-term perspective being right. He has got good experience around building structures in football clubs and Manchester United do need that.

"The manager has got to be right next season to be able to take on [Thomas] Tuchel, [Pep] Guardiola and [Jurgen] Klopp because if you don't take on those three with a manager who can face them like-for-like, you will get beat up. 

"It has been proven over the last few years that great managers in this league will bring you great things; Manchester United need a great manager to compete with the ones that are at that level in this league at this moment in time."

Ralf Rangnick described Manchester United's thrilling win over Leeds United as the "best reply" to reports of dressing disunity.

The Red Devils ran out 4-2 victors over their trans-Pennine rivals in a Premier League classic at Elland Road.

First-half goals from Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes had the visitors coasting, but a quickfire double from Rodrigo and Raphinha had Leeds level by the 54th minute.

However, substitutes Fred and Anthony Elanga were both on target to make it back-to-back Premier League wins for Rangnick's men.

The triumph comes at the end of a week in which captain Maguire and Marcus Rashford have both publicly denied articles claiming there is disharmony among Rangnick's squad.

Speaking at a news conference, interim boss Rangnick said: "We knew it was an important win today, similar to the one against West Ham, similar emotion at the end with a last-second goal.

"Today it was more important, not only that we won, but the way we reacted after conceding the equaliser, that was the best possible answer the team could give.

"It was perfect in regard to maturity and unity and the best reply they could give to some articles last week that there was disruption in the locker room.

"A game like this one today, you can only win as a team and the mentality of a team. Apart from the three points, this was the most important thing for me."

There is certainly no love lost between the two teams, but the hostile atmosphere at times boiled over with objects thrown in the direction of Manchester United players from sections of the home crowd.

Commenting on the unsavoury images, Rangnick added to MUTV: "As far as I know, there is some investigation going on from Leeds United.

"I don't think that anything happened in the end. Anthony Elanga looked well and he was happy about scoring his goal.

"Obviously things like that should not happen and I think even more so this game. The atmosphere was great.

"At times we had to cool down things on the pitch a little bit, but this is what I did when I walked onto the pitch [during a late fracas between the players]. I didn't want anything to happen – no yellow or red cards.

"In moments like this, I think it's important to try and cool things down."

Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa said such things should not happen, though added he did not see what occurred.

"Any excess other than sporting should not be approved. I can't evaluate what you spoke about because I didn't see it," Bielsa said.

Ralf Rangnick praised the way in which Manchester United reacted to adversity in their thrilling win over Leeds United.

United had looked set for a comfortable win over their old rivals on Sunday when Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes gave them a 2-0 lead, but a rapid double from Leeds duo Rodrigo and Raphinha restored parity.

But substitutes Fred and Anthony Elanga struck to ensure United opened up a four-point lead over fifth-placed West Ham in the Premier League. The Red Devils have scored 10 top-flight goals through substitutes this season, more than any other side.

And the character and maturity shown by United was of great satisfaction to Rangnick, who told reporters: "After the first 15 minutes, we had good control of the game and could have been three or four [goals] up.

"[But] within two minutes it was a completely different situation and atmosphere in the stadium. The five minutes after that were intense, very difficult for us, after that, the team showed maturity. 

"I don't know if this would have happened two or three months ago, but it happened today.

"It was not easy, even more so since we had [other] experiences like that, where we were 1-0 up or 2-1 up against Aston Villa and only got one point [in a 2-2 draw last month]. 

"It was important as an experience for the team, not only for the three points."

The 59 seconds between Rodrigo and Raphinha's goals marked the fastest that a team has scored twice in the same league game against United since West Brom in May 2013 (52 seconds), in what was Alex Ferguson's final game in charge.

But like his manager, captain Maguire was delighted with United's reaction.

"I think that [the reaction to Leeds' equaliser] was the most pleasing aspect," Maguire told Sky Sports.

"We had to stick together. We knew it's a tough place to come but we knew we had qualities and that we could hurt them."

Maguire's opener was the Old Trafford club's first goal from a corner since a 3-1 win over Burnley in April 2021, and represented the England defender's first goal of the Premier League season.

United also became the first team in Premier League history to reach 700 wins in the competition.

Cristiano Ronaldo is "one of the greatest players to ever play the game" according to Leeds United full-back Luke Ayling, who is excited by the challenge of facing the Manchester United great.

Leeds renew acquaintances with their cross-Pennine rivals at Elland Road on Sunday, aiming to extract some revenge for a humiliating 5-1 opening-game reverse at Old Trafford.

Portugal legend Ronaldo had not yet completed his return to the Red Devils by that point and he has since scored 15 goals in all competitions in a season where United have flattered to deceive. 

Ronaldo ended a six-game goal drought by netting in United's 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion last time out, though, and Ayling is excited to pit his wits against the superstar forward.

"He's one of the greatest players to ever play the game; of course it's great to be on the same pitch as someone like that," he told Sky Sports.

"Everyone's watched him for years, it'll be nice to get on the same pitch as him and hopefully do well against him."

Leeds' own campaign has more miss than hit, with the Yorkshire outfit registering just five top-flight wins in a season ravaged by injuries.

The club's supporters were unable to attend last season's corresponding fixture, which finished 0-0, due to the coronavirus pandemic and Ayling is keen to give the Leeds faithful something to celebrate.

He added: "The game at Old Trafford was a weird one. We felt like we stayed in it first half, stayed alright, went in at 1-0 down and got it back to 1-1, then there was just a mad five minutes where they scored three goals and it was 4-1 before we knew it.

"We take a lot of heart from what we did against them at our place, I thought we did really well, and got a 0-0 draw, we coped with them really well.

"We knew the second year of being in the Premier League would be tough. We were still riding the wave of promotion the first year, we started well, and it kind of just carried on. But going into the second season, you've seen it loads of times before, you know it's going to be a tricky season.

"It hasn't helped that we've had so many injuries along the way, and it feels like once we get two or three back, then four get injured. It's been a hard season like that, but we keep plugging away and trying to get points to climb the table."

"We know what a big game it is for the fans. They've waited 17 years to get back into the ground to see this game, we played Man Utd last year without them here - the players will be rocking on Sunday, it's the one game I know they've been buzzing for.

"I think it gives the whole city, the whole club a lift [to win] and after the match last weekend, it's a good game for us to go in because we know the crowd's going to be behind us, 100 per cent. The place is going to be rocking, and it's a great chance for us."

Since Ralf Rangnick took charge at Manchester United, much of the focus on them has revolved around – unsurprisingly – how they press, or don't, for that matter.

Of course, the overriding narrative when he was appointed fixated on how he was the supposed 'godfather of gegenpressing' and would definitely have United pressing more effectively than Liverpool in a matter of weeks…

Okay, there probably weren't many making such grand claims, but the point remains: United's off-the-ball work became the focus.

That meant their rather underwhelming attacking displays went a little unnoticed until Rangnick started talking about their expected goals (xG) after their 1-1 draw with Southampton.

As it turns out, since Rangnick's arrival, United have underperformed their non-penalty xG by 5.5 across all competitions, the worst of any Premier League team in that time. When you do consider spot-kicks, that gap increases to 6.1. Brentford are the second-worst in both metrics (4.31 and 3.67, respectively).

United simply aren't scoring as many goals as they should given the quality of the chances they're creating, but you can spin that into a positive.

Assuming they continue to craft opportunities at a similar rate, they should – in theory – level out with respect to xG. Considering recent meetings with Leeds United and their own woes, could Marcelo Bielsa's men be the tonic they need?


Matches against Man Utd are, in all likelihood, the first games your average Leeds fan will look for when the fixture list is released ahead of the season. While the rivalry may not be as fierce competitively on the pitch as it once was, the two sets of supporters still despise each other.

These rivalry clashes haven't been especially kind to Leeds since their long-awaited return to the Premier League, though.

Over the three games, Leeds haven't won once and trail 11-3 on aggregate, with United demolishing them 6-2 at Old Trafford last season and 5-1 there in August. The 0-0 draw at Elland Road in April last season is as good as it's got – that's also the last time the Red Devils failed to score on the road.

Leeds suffered those two Old Trafford nightmares having previously only conceded five or more goals away to United in all competitions twice in their previous 50 visits.

Further to that, the 6-2 was the first time a Bielsa team had conceded six times in a competition match since he was in charge of Newell's Old Boys in February 1992.

It was also the first occasion United had scored at least six goals since "I'd 8-2 be an Arsenal fan" happened, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men having netted just three times in their previous six home league games.

Of course, last season's clash at Elland Road was the opposite of a goal fest. The main difference this time is that the game won't be behind closed doors, though Leeds weren't quite this defensively feeble then.


It is worth mentioning that, indeed, Leeds were not as leaky last season, as has been said. But even when they were in good shape, few would consider them among the tightest teams at the back.

Their 54 concessions in 2020-21 may not have been alarming in itself, with six teams letting in more, but at a rate of 1.4 goals conceded every game they were always likely to find themselves in a little danger if, A) they stopped scoring as often, or B) they didn't improve the defence.

Sure enough, injuries have played a massive part in Leeds' struggles this season, with most of their key players spending at least a short period on the sidelines.

That's been especially felt at the back. While Leeds' goals scored per game remains at a similar – albeit slightly lower – rate (1.5 down from 1.6), their concessions have rocketed from 1.4 every match to 2.0.

Only Norwich City (50) have conceded more Premier League goals than Leeds this season (46), and 26 of those have come in the nine matches since their last clean sheet in November. It's a diabolical run.

Granted, it would appear they have been somewhat unfortunate. Their expected goals against (xGA) (40.4) is 4.6 lower than their goals conceded (excluding own goals) record, suggesting they have on occasion been punished by particularly impressive finishing.

But their xGA remains the third-poorest in the league and, as the graphic above suggests, they've been conceding higher-value chances than they've been creating on average practically all season. That -0.74 differential on their rolling average between non-penalty (np) xG for and xGA heading into the weekend highlights just how much worse they are defensively than they are good going forward at the moment.


An interesting underlying narrative ahead of this clash is the form of the respective goalkeepers.

David de Gea is arguably back to his very best, the Spaniard enjoying a wonderful season after falling out of favour in 2020-21 – it's as though Dean Henderson's emergence as a viable replacement spooked him into pulling his finger out.

Whereas Illan Meslier is – according to the numbers at least – having a very difficult season.

That's not necessarily to say Meslier is entirely to blame. In fact, he's not made any Opta-defined errors leading to shots this term, whereas De Gea has made two. Similarly, as Leeds' xGA shows, they give away a lot of chances and there's only so much a goalkeeper – and a young one at that – can do.

Indeed, Meslier was considered one of few positives from Leeds' recent 3-0 battering by Everton, yet the numbers don't make for such kind reading.

According to Opta's 'goals prevented' metric, Meslier should have stopped as many as 7.3 of the goals he has conceded this season, by far the worst record in the league (Vicente Guaita: 5.1). De Gea, on the other hand, has apparently been the most decisive keeper, actively preventing 6.9 goals and making a division-high 92 saves.

Meslier is ranked second for saves (80), but it would also seem he has let in several goals the average keeper might've been expected to keep out.

Intriguingly, United's rolling average in terms of np-xG for and xGA has their current differential as the exact inverse of that of Leeds, with Rangnick's side enjoying a positive 0.74 difference in favour of xG for, meaning they are creating better chances than they concede and are seemingly at their most cohesive in attack all season.

It's by far the biggest rolling average gap United have seen this term – at least in favour of xG for – and the 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion in midweek looked like another step towards being a more ruthless attacking unit.

Creating chances hasn't really been a problem in recent weeks, the issue has been finishing them off. While rivalry meetings can be unpredictable, and a full house at Elland Road should at least ensure the hosts have a vocal backing, it wouldn't be in the least bit surprising if Leeds are proven to be the cannon fodder United need.

Ralf Rangnick has denied rumours of a power struggle between Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Manchester United captaincy.

Maguire has been widely criticised for his form this season and his underwhelming performances coupled with the apparent influence of Ronaldo was reported to have caused issues in the changing room.

A report in the Mirror on Thursday claimed interim boss Rangnick has tasked Ronaldo with mentoring the young players.

According to the story, Maguire has subsequently felt undermined by the former Real Madrid star.

But Maguire hit back on Twitter on Friday, insisting the claims "aren't true" and Rangnick has since lent his backing to the England international.

"Well, to start with, I must say this is absolutely nonsense," Rangnick told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with Leeds United.

"I have never spoken with any player about a possible change of captaincy, Harry was fully aware of that, so was Cristiano and the other players. This has never been an issue for me.

"It's me who decides who's the captain and therefore there is no reason for me to speak about that with another person. Harry is our captain and he will stay our captain until the end of the season and there is nothing else to add on to that."

Maguire's response to the initial story on Twitter came after Marcus Rashford reacted similarly on Thursday.

Rashford was responding to a German journalist declaring that "English players" like himself and Maguire "are irritated that Ronaldo wants to lead the dressing room with his own clique".

The England forward suggested the reporter was "just making it up as we go along" and "looking for divides".

Rangnick is not especially annoyed by the situation, and even believes the atmosphere in the dressing room is much better than it was just a few weeks ago.

"Well I'm not frustrated at all because I know it's not true," he continued. "I told you about Harry being the captain, it's not an issue at all, it's never been an issue for us or myself as manager.

"All the other things, to be honest, I don't listen to that noise that much because my full focus is on preparing the team for the next training, for the next game.

"Obviously, I have heard about what was written. I can only tell you from my personal experience in the last 12 weeks, yes, there were players unhappy until the closure of the transfer window because, as I always said, the squad was too big, we had too many players who just realised they wouldn't get game time and this has improved, for sure.

"From what I can tell, the atmosphere in the locker room is better than it used to be a couple of weeks ago for all those reasons I just spoke about.

"As you quite rightly said, for us it's about performing well, showing togetherness on the pitch, getting the best out of our performance and winning games, that's our job. Those are the things we can influence, all the other things we can't."

Cristiano Ronaldo insisted "everything else is just noise" in an apparent swipe at his critics after ending his goalscoring drought in Manchester United's win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Portugal international had gone six games without finding the net in all competitions – his worst run at club level since a run of seven games ending in January 2009 – prior to drilling home United's opener in Tuesday's Premier League contest.

Bruno Fernandes added a late second to seal a 2-0 win for United at Old Trafford, ending what has also been a poor run for the Red Devils, having drawn their previous two league games and been knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough.

Those results and Ronaldo's loss of form led to reports that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will look to leave Old Trafford at the end of the campaign, but he is happy to have done his talking on the pitch.

"Back on track," Ronaldo posted on Twitter. "Nobody gives up and there's only one way to get back on track: hard work, team work, serious work. Everything else is just noise. Let's go Devils!"

Ronaldo has now scored against 168 different opponents for club and country after netting against Brighton, while he has also scored at least once in each of the last 21 calendar years stretching back to 2002.

He found the back of the net from one of a game-high five shots against Brighton, while the three chances he created for team-mates are the most he has managed in the Premier League this term.

After recently leaving Ronaldo out of the starting line-up to face Burnley, United interim boss Ralf Rangnick was pleased with the former Real Madrid and Juventus star's improved display against Albion.

"The goal he scored was amazing," Rangnick said. "Not only an important one but an amazing goal. I think overall it was a good performance by Cristiano. 

"'Energetically, he was on there, he was always trying to help his team-mates, so I think in the last weeks this is definitely the best performance by him and a very, very important goal for us."

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick praised his side's marked second-half improvement during the win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Without a win in three matches across all competitions, the Red Devils were booed off by the Old Trafford faithful following a goalless first half.

The hosts registered just three shots on goal to their opponents’ eight during the opening 45 minutes, while enjoying only 41 per cent of possession.

However, the pendulum swung in their favour early in the second half, Cristiano Ronaldo breaking the deadlock with his first goal of 2022 before Lewis Dunk was dismissed for bringing down Anthony Elanga.

Bruno Fernandes sealed the points deep into stoppage time with his fourth goal in as many Premier League appearances against Brighton.

"First half was Mr Hyde; second half Dr Jekyll – and for a change, [the result] was different," Rangnick said.

"In the end, it was important to get the three points against an in-form team. Brighton are very possession-based, full of confidence, and we had to take more risks in the second half; it paid off. 

"In the first 10 minutes of the second half, we had more success moments, and it raised the crowd; they were not moaning and were getting behind the team

"We scored the goal and got the red card. It should have been 3-0, 4-0 after 75 minutes, but there is a bit of lack of assuredness in front of goal."

United also registered their second clean sheet in three home Premier League games – as many as they managed in the previous 18 – but did so without Raphael Varane, who pulled out of the starting line-up due to illness.

Addressing the defender's situation, Rangnick revealed: "On the way from the hotel after dinner and team meeting, he had stomach problems. 

"We were hoping to get rid of it with medication, but he did not feel well and that is why we played with Victor Lindelof instead."

Victory lifted United above West Ham and back into the top four of the Premier League table.

David de Gea, who made several smart saves to keep Brighton at bay, revealed his team-mates' delight at getting back to winning ways, but feels they should be in a stronger position than they are.

"It is great always when you have the three points, especially after we drew the last few games," the goalkeeper said. "We are all very happy.

"We knew that Brighton is one of the teams that play very well with the ball, press very good and, for me, it is a very good team. 

"We pressed high in the second half. We controlled the game after the red card and there was a five-minute spell when they came back.

"We should be fighting for more things than the top four, but that is the reality. There are many teams fighting for the same position and with the quality we have, we should win a lot of points."

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