A let-off for Manchester United in Madrid

Manchester United’s players celebrate after Swedish forward Anthony Elanga scored a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match between Atletico de Madrid and Manchester United at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 23, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

At a ground where Manchester United had never played at before, it felt as though those rocking the black, blue, and yellow third strip of the club were shellshocked to compete at one of Europe’s most modern stadiums.

United lacked grit, calmness, and composure at the fiercely intimidating Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night, on and off the ball.

A difficult start

It was David De Gea and Harry Maguire’s mix-up leading to a corner inside five minutes that felt set the tone for the night, although the Reds were let off the hook on that occasion.

It was only until minutes later when Atletico Madrid’s second corner, initially glanced away by Victor Lindelöf, was picked up by Brazilian Renan Lodi.

Lodi’s left-footed cross was met by record signing João Félix, with his bullet header finding its way into the back of the net via the inside of the post, leaving De Gea rooted.

The remainder of the first-half was what’s been dubbed as a classic Diego Simeone performance in recent years, with Ralf Rangnick’s side looking lost for ideas, with every possible attacking outlet nullified.

The Reds were lucky to go into the break just one goal down, as full-back Šime Vrsaljko saw his scrappy, headed attempt rebound onto the crossbar on 45 minutes.

Rangnick’s substitutes tipping the balance of the game

After the interval, both sides started how they left the opening 45, with the visitors on the backfoot, struggling again to get out of their own half.

Although the hosts struggled to conjure up chances of their own, Atleti were dominant and looked in control, up until Rangnick introduced Nemanja Matić, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Elanga.

Matić’s introduction allowed the Old Trafford side a foothold in the contest, and United’s first real passage of play led to a goal.

Neat play amongst Jadon Sancho, Fred and Cristiano Ronaldo allowed an opening for Ronaldo’s compatriot, Bruno Fernandes.

Fernandes, who was vastly wasteful all evening, found youngster Anthony Elanga, who slotted past Jan Oblak with his first touch since coming on as a substitute.

Out of United’s 11 Champions League goals this campaign, Fernandes has assisted seven of those, showing his creative spark even on a near-disastrous night for Manchester United.

With the return leg taking place on 15 March, the Red Devils will have to ensure they up their game, or else it may well be another trophyless season at Old Trafford.

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