Atletico Madrid are set to travel to Old Trafford on Tuesday, hoping for a narrow win over Manchester United that could grant them entry to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Los Colchoneros are currently on a majestic run in La Liga, having won all of their last four league encounters. The team seems to have finally picked up form after a change in formation, allowing the defenders a safety net.
But after drawing 1-1 with Manchester United in the first leg, Diego Simeone’s men would require a win on away turf if they are to progress through to the last eight of the Champions League. That task starts with the correct selection of players, which we assume will be:
Simeone has named Mario Hermoso as part of the trip to Old Trafford. But there as question marks over the involvement of the former Real Madrid starlet, with Atleti likely to persist with Reinildo Mandava on the left side of the back-three.
Speaking of January signings, though, Daniel Wass is not available for this encounter, meaning Simeone could be forced to persist with Marcos Llorente at right wing-back, whereas Renan Lodi should start on the opposite flank.
Elsewhere in the backline, Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez remain guaranteed starters, as they look to form the three-man backline with Reinildo. Felipe is in the mix as well and could start if Gimenez is deemed not fit enough to start.
There is no looking past Jan Oblak in goal, even though the Slovenian has endured a rapid fall from grace this season.
As far as the midfield is concerned, Thomas Lemar has not been included in the travelling contingent. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco is not involved either due to suspension, which is why Lodi is the likeliest option at left wing-back.
But on a positive note, Geoffrey Kondogbia is in contention to feature on Tuesday, even though Simeone is more than likely to start with Koke as the main holding midfielder.
The club captain should play a vital role in dictating possession and partnering the two additional midfielders in Hector Herrera and Rodrigo de Paul.
Simeone has no shortage of options in the attacking department, which could lead to a potential selection dilemma. Indeed, four players are gunning for two attacking slots as Atletico Madrid look to surprise Man United this midweek.
Joao Felix has been in an exceptional run of form and appears to be a guaranteed starter. Alongside him, Luis Suarez might get the nod owing to his Premier League experience, although Antoine Griezmann and Angel Correa are equally viable options.
Provided Suarez gets the nod alongside Felix, Griezmann should be an exciting option on the bench for Simeone. The same can be said for Correa, who can offer more versatility in the final third.
Kondogbia was arguably the best player on the pitch during the first leg and is an option in midfield. He could be a potential alternative to Herrera in the second line of press, should Atleti require more control of possession.
It would not be unlike Simeone to bring on one of Felipe or Hermoso if they are able to sustain a lead till the final quarter of the game.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin
Real Madrid kicked off their UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday night with a narrow 1-0 win over Union Berlin.
The victory was deserved from the point of view of domination of play. Real Madrid were the only team attacking for large parts of the night and created chances to no end.
Yet, one must tip the hat to the visitors’ resilient defence. Playing the first UEFA Champions League clash in the club’s history is difficult enough, let alone at the Santiago Bernabeu. Union Berlin did so and with some style.
Until the 93rd minute, a draw appeared to be the most probable result. The visitors refused to cave into Real Madrid’s relentless attacks and poured their hearts out on the field.
In the end, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men did what they do best. A last-minute winner from Jude Bellingham gave the hosts all three points.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin.
The power of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the few teams in the world that can never be written off. Such is the ability of the team, more so under Carlo Ancelotti, that they can pull off a win even after a howler.
Their unfair advantage, in part, owes itself to the ridiculous individual quality they possess on the field. Any player is capable of turning the game around with a moment of magic.
Yet, the most important factor that works in their favour is the mental resilience in the squad. Real Madrid never believe it is over until it really is, and Wednesday night’s game provided further reassurance as to why they are the mentality monsters.
For 90 minutes, the visitors frustrated Real Madrid to the limit. They stuck to their defensive lines with discipline and did not give Los Blancos much to work with.
Yet, Real Madrid’s perseverance was visible through the ordeal. The intensity of their attacks amplified with every passing minute and showed no signs of tapering down.
Poetically, they found the winning goal in the final minute of added time when all doors seemed closed, with Jude Bellingham being the hero yet again.
Forwards need to step up
The men in white had 75% of the possession on Wednesday night at Santiago Bernabeu and kept making the required penetrative attacks.
In 90 minutes, the hosts racked up an xG tally of 3.80. Yet, shockingly, they were goalless even in the penultimate minute of the game.
Real Madrid took 32 shots against Union Berlin as opposed to the opposition’s four. Seven shots were on target while 10 were blocked.
In terms of big chances, the me in white churned up five in the 90 minutes of which they missed four. They also struck the woodwork twice last night.
The team’s struggles in the final third place the spotlight on Rodrygo Goes and Joselu, who were the team’s two forwards at Santiago Bernabeu. Both players suffered disappointing nights in front of goal and just could not catch a break from their poor luck.
The Spaniard had three shots on target, five off it, and three attempts blocked against Union Berlin. All of it, however, was in vain.
The Brazilian was not much better with three shots and one blocked chance. Nevertheless, their poor results were not for a lack of trying if that is any silver lining.
Far from convincing
Real Madrid’s mentality and fortitude to push for a win is indeed a reason to be optimistic. However, that does not hide the fact that the men in white struggled and toiled on to no end.
The Champions League has no minnows, but one would expect Real Madrid to show their dominance at some point in the game and close the deal. However, that spell of play never arrived.
Los Blancos may be on a six-game winning streak so far this season, but there is reason to believe that a factor of luck has been essential for most of their scalps.
All eyes will thus be on Ancelotti now. The manager has a world-class roster at his disposal, and it will now be up to him to enhance Real Madrid’s performance in the final third. After all, putting away chances is as important as creating them.