Manchester United are set to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in a fixture that many fans were dreading when the draw was made (for a second time!).
Atletico under Diego Simeone are known for their siege mentality, breaking down teams psychologically as they stop wave after wave of attacks. The Argentine has his team well-drilled and they are generally a nightmare to deal with on the big occasion, no matter the standard of opponent they are facing.
Atleti’s poor form this season may have given hope to United fans and also Ralf Rangnick, with LaLiga’s reigning champions currently sitting fifth in the table, but with a number of poor results under their belts, including a 1-0 loss to bottom-of-the-table Levante in midweek
Jan Oblak’s fall from grace is also encouraging, with the Slovakian going from arguably the world’s best goalkeeper to conceding 30 goals in 24 games and only keeping six clean sheets in Spain’s top flight.
But another more pivotal factor is also at play.
Before this season’s Champions League commenced, UEFA announced they would abolish the away goal rule, meaning goals scored home and away would be waited evenly in the event of an aggregate draw. This could spell disaster for Atletico.
Away goals played into the hands of Simeone’s ultra-pragmatic style of play. In 2020, when Atletico famously knocked the holders Liverpool out of the competition, they benefitted massively from the away goals rule.
Since Liverpool failed to score in the Spanish capital, when Atletico took it to extra time in the away fixture they had 30 minutes where any goal would force Liverpool to score two. Simeone’s men hit them on the counter and put three past them.
Afterwards, however, even Simeone admitted that the rule gave his side an unfair advantage.
“Today was unjust because we had 30 minutes of extra time to score three away goals. Liverpool never had that. We had 30 more minutes to score an away goal and Liverpool didn’t. That’s not fair.
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“The rule favoured us today, but it might go against us in the future. Liverpool had 30 minutes fewer to score an away goal. That’s wrong.”
But Tuesday night will mark a new era of Atletico in the Champions League.
Despite United now facing them on a more even playing field, Rangnick will still need to have the team ready or they will fall victim to the style of play that has served Simeone so well for years now – especially when the odds appear to be against Atletico.
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