- Old Trafford decide quarterfinalist today. United and Atletico need to win after 1-1 in the first leg. The spotlights on two Portuguese: Cristiano and João.
The Theater of Dreams raises the curtain tonight with a single performance. Because today there may be an extension, puntis, but never a tomorrow. This is the night of all or nothing. Neither United nor Atlético are worth anything other than winning. Empire 1-1 of the first leg obliges. Goals no longer have double value. It’s about playing football again with Luis. Win, win and win again. If Atleti wants to reach the quarterfinals of this Champions League, they have no other choice.
United is a mirror. Two teams experiencing twin situations this season. Built for more, with returns (Cristiano, Griezmann) to face everything, they go up, down, in a carousel of emotions and moods. Atlético, who played one of their best games in the first leg, with Lodi as a surprise and weapon, arrives after the victory but with strange sensations. Because he played badly against Cádiz, because he has a lot of casualties because his worst enemy seems to be himself. Which Atleti will jump at Old Trafford. Capable of the greatest feats, Simeone and his team already did it two years ago, eliminating Liverpool at Anfield. Or taking steps back that condemn him. The spotlights will be on two Portuguese. One, João Félix, with that leadership that Simeone asked for converted into goals: five in the last five games, four of them before minute 7. He will start alongside Griezmann, a duo that already shone against Liverpool in this Champions League. Suárez, as for five games, will wait his turn on the bench. Belt, it seems, too.
The other is Christian. A very different Cristiano from the first leg. He arrived then with only one goal in 2022. He now arrives with the hot boot, after scoring a hat-trick against Tottenham over the weekend. With that and with the history of his duels against Atlético in his head. It’s not just the 25 goals that he has scored against him in 36 games. It is the memory of another European night not so far away, that of Turin. Round of 16 between Juventus-Atlético, 2018-19. The departure was a copy. Cristiano disappeared in the Metropolitano; Cristiano erased. The second leg, a nightmare for the rojiblancos. Cristiano opening his jaws, Cristiano a hat-trick. Atleti, who arrived with a 2-0, out of the quarterfinals.
Ups and downs
Simeone flew to Manchester with Kondogbia and Hermoso on the plane, tall. The question is whether the first will enter an eleven from which Koke could leave. The captain, who was returning against Cádiz after injury, was changed at halftime. To Cholo’s pain. He does not live the best season of him, neither in the influence in the game nor in the physical. And today the best must play. Giménez, touched, will be tested. He wants to play but his muscular fragility is a curve in which Cholo does not want to stamp. Rangnick breathes after the tests on Bruno Fernandes and Shaw have been negative. The threat of COVID also hovered over De Gea over the weekend but it passed. The doubt about him is McTominay, with a calf injury, but Rangnick is protected by that duo, Fred-Pogba.
Those that Atleti also erased in the first leg. But it didn’t finish. Everything will start again tonight. Only once, out of the last four, did the rojiblancos advance to the quarterfinals. And it was just over 50 kilometers. On the night of Anfield.