Matches “Atletico” – “Manchester United” and “Benfica” – “Ajax” ended the first round of the 1/8 finals of the Champions League. Both in Madrid and in Lisbon a draw was recorded – respectively 1:1 and 2:2. Now, in the return matches, Manchester and Ajax will try to take advantage of their field.
Before the confrontation between the two giants of European football, Atletico and Manchester United, there was a lot of talk in the press that both clubs were going through hard times. This is confirmed primarily by the results in the national leagues. Manchester are already hopelessly behind their fellow city leaders in the Premier League and are thinking about how to keep a place in the top four and qualify for the Champions League next season. Madrid in their championship solve about the same problem, having lost the chance to defend the league title, which they won last year.
And in the current Champions League, both of them performed, to put it mildly, without brilliance. United, along with Lille, scored the fewest points among the group winners, and Atlético in this indicator turned out to be the worst of those who made it to the play-offs from second place.
Immediately before the first match of the 1/8 finals, both teams scored effective victories in the domestic arena. But, for example, the main star of Manchester, Cristiano Ronaldo, did not score again, and in fact he recently gave out a goalless streak of six games, which has not happened to him for more than 10 years. Atlético Madrid still does not recover from Antoine Griezmann’s injuries, and in addition captain Koke is out of action. True, the French striker was included in the application. By the way, another star striker of Madrid remained on the bench – Uruguayan Luis Suarez.
The hosts of the Metropolitano arena immediately occupied the opponent’s half of the field, and only the dedication of the Manchester defender Victor Lindelof, who rushed under the blow of Jose Maria Jimenez, saved the guests from major troubles. However, it was not possible to avoid them, and in the seventh minute, Atlético nevertheless scored an early goal. Renan Lodi picked up the ball after a corner, immediately delivered it to the penalty area for Juan Felix, who took advantage of the confusion in the opponent’s defensive formations and closed the pitch in a fall with his head. United’s Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea didn’t even flinch, so flawlessly punched the Portuguese striker with a rebound from the bar.
Somewhere in a quarter of an hour, the Manchester team came to their senses a little, and Bruno Fernandes tried to check the vigilance of Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. But the ball never reached him, and in the future, the Slovenian practically had no work. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored so many goals against the Madrid club in the past, reaching the mark of 25 goals in 35 matches, did not threaten Oblak at all. Partners did not create good moments for the great Portuguese, and his attempt to strike from afar was far from successful. At the same time, the clouds continued to thicken periodically over the penalty de Gea. At the end of the first half, another serve from Lodi from the left almost turned into a curious goal, when Shime Vrsaljko, who completed it, hit Lindelof, the ball bounced off the Swede into the ground, and already hit the crossbar from the lawn.
Manchester looked very pale before the break. His constructive game did not go well at all, and Ronaldo, leaving for the locker room, did not hide his displeasure. The visitors started the second half much more aggressively. But Atletico defended no less aggressively and continued to keep the enemy far enough from the goal. There were no shots on target at all, since almost all attacking impulses were stopped in the bud, and often in violation of the rules. As a result, yellow cards rained down, although the team did not cross the line followed by removal.
And in the 80th minute, United still equalized. Head coaches made the necessary personnel changes. Real Madrid mentor Diego Simeone, for example, released Griezmann, but the replacement of his counterpart Ralf Rangnik unexpectedly fired. 19-year-old Swede Anthony Elanga caught his guardian on a positional error, received a pass from Fernandes and ran one on one with the goalkeeper. With the cloud, the young forward dealt with surprisingly coolly, rolling the ball into the net from the bottom. Griezmann in the end also scored a dangerous blow, and Manchester again came to the rescue of the crossbar. But it looked like the Frenchman was on the sidelines, and if he had scored, the episode would have been scrutinized by VAR for sure. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, and now everything will be decided in the second leg.
In the Benfica-Ajax pairing, the Dutch club was considered the clear favorite, which looked powerful in the group stage and, in particular, went over another Portuguese team, Sporting, with a skating rink, scoring nine goals in two matches. In the future, the Amsterdam team did not slow down, continue to demonstrate bright attacking football and, according to eyewitnesses, approached the start of the Champions League playoffs in excellent shape. But Benfica is extremely unstable this season, which even led to the resignation of head coach Jorge Jesus at the end of last year. The Lisbonians were temporarily led by Nelson Verissima, who had previously worked with their second squad, but not to say that all this had any tangible effect.
In the 18th minute, Ajax took the lead thanks to a technical shot by Dusan Tadic from Nussair Mazraoui’s flank pass. Soon the best scorer of the current Champions League, Sebastien Allais, scored 10 goals in the group stage. Only this time, the formidable Ajax striker cut the ball into his own net after a cross from Jan Vertonghen. However, Alle immediately corrected himself and brought his team forward, pushing the same Vertonghen. Nevertheless, Benfica again bounced back through the efforts of Roman Yaremchuk and snatched a draw – 2: 2, which leaves her hope of reaching the quarterfinals on aggregate.