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UEFA Champions League results: Ajax’s Haller makes up for own goal; Manchester United fortunate to draw Atleti

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The UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday brought us some high-end drama as Atletico Madrid’s early goal from Joao Felix was canceled out by 19-year-old Swedish prospect Anthony Elanga with 10 minutes to go for Manchester United, who escape the Wanda Metropolitano in Spain with a draw. Benfica stormed back as they needed help from Ajax’s prolific scorer Sebastian Haller to secure a 2-2 draw as the Ivorian put together a three-minute span in the first half where he scored and then conceded an own goal.

Atletico got things going via a diving header from Felix in the seventh minute where he was teed up by Renan Lodi. It was the start of a tough day for center back Victor Lindelof, who was left on an island playing out of position as a right back for Ralf Rangnick. Lodi ran circles around him and Lindelof did the best he could, but his forwards offered little to no help. 

It all somehow worked out for Rangnick’s side as Atleti failed to make their chances count, hitting the woodwork twice before Manchester United picked up the late equalizer with the teenage super sub. Bruno Fernandes played an inch-perfect ball to spring Elanga and he had a cold finish to score his first Champions League goal to bring his side level.

Atletico had no business settling for a draw in a match where they took 13 shots for an xG of 1.59, but only Felix’s goal hit the target. In comparison, despite having 62 percent of the possession, United mustered seven shots (only two on target) for an xG of 0.46. But that’s why the shots that hit the back of the net only matter here as the Red Devils are in prime position with their home supporters behind them in the second leg to make the most out of a lackluster first leg.

Benfica and Ajax played out an absorbing 2-2 draw at Estadio da Luz with the visitors twice taking the lead before being pegged back by their hosts. The Dutch giants drew first blood when Dusan Tadic expertly finished from a Noussair Mazraoui assist, but it did not take long for the Portuguese to level as Sebastien Haller put through his own net.

The Ivory Coast international has been in exceptional form so far this season and made amends shortly afterwards when he put Ajax back in front after Odisseas Vlachodimos spilled the ball. Benfica grew into things in the second half and began to push for an equalizer which eventually came through Roman Yaremchuk who made it 2-2 with 18 minutes to go in Lisbon.

There were no further goals, but this one lived up to the billing as a battle between two traditional powers who continue to influence modern soccer.

Notable Performances

Dusan Tadic, Ajax: Another key goal on a night where he and Haller did the damage for Ten Hag’s men. He will also be key in leg two. Rating 7

Sebastian Haller, Ajax: With a goal at each end, he continues his hot streak. He wasn’t far away from a second goal for Ajax when Antony hit the woodwork. Rating 6

Rafa Silva, Benfica: Some sublime creative play that saw him put his counterpart Tadic in the shade on the night. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he was Benfica’s outstanding performer. Rating 8

Jan Vertonghen, Benfica: Up against his formative club, the Belgian played a role in the first equalizer and helped to tighten things up in the second half to ensure that Ajax were never out of sight. Rating 6

Jan Oblak, Atletico: Not asked to do much on the day, he faltered when faced one on one by Anthony Elanga. While it was a good goal, an experienced keeper shouldn’t be beaten there. Rating 5

Renan Lodi, Atletico: Ran the show creating three chances consistently using the space left by going against Lindelof. Should’ve had more than one assist on a day with better finishing. Rating 8

Jadon Sancho, Manchester United: Another anonymous day out there for Sancho as he can’t string a run of good performances together. Wasn’t able to get on the ball much and only took one shot all game. Rating 4

Luke Shaw, Manchester United: When Shaw isn’t crossing the ball into the box, he isn’t doing much for United these days and he only took one today. Not sure if it was the game plan for Rangnick but Shaw wasn’t properly utilized. Rating 5

Goal of the day

Benfica with a team goal.

Gotta play through the whistle as this goal began by Timber going down in Benfica’s box pleading for a penalty. But while that was happening, they began a counterattack to march up the field. The initial save by Remko Pasveer on Goncalo Ramos was highlight-reel worthy on its own but Roman Yaremchuck was able to follow it up for the equalizer.

Second leg outlook

Manchester United vs. Atletico Madrid, March 15: With the game being played at Old Trafford and how United clawed back into things, you want to give them the advantage even though away goals no longer matter. More time to get Edinson Cavani healthy and figure out what Rangnick’s best midfield is can only help United. If they’re unlucky, Atletico may finally get a handle on their form, but that doesn’t seem likely.

Ajax vs. Benfica, March 15th: With Ajax at home, they’ll also have the advantage. They arguably had the better chances in the first match creating an xG of 2.11 and with Haller putting the goal in the right net, the result would’ve been different. They’ll be concerned having allowed Benfica to shoot the ball 17 times, but those concerns seem minor in the grand scheme of things.





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