Reaction and Player Ratings : Atletico Madrid 1-1 Manchester United


Perhaps it’s a sign of the times – perhaps we’re all getting caught up in the micro-analytics that surround every Manchester United match. Every passage of play, every half, every player, every managerial decision, all of these factors are under scrutiny in a way that seems much more tedious than ever before.

Manchester United drew at Atletico Madrid to take their Champions League knockout tie back to Old Trafford on level footing, and that would usually be a creditable result, but it doesn’t exactly feel like it.

Anthony Elanga arrived from the bench to strike a dramatic late equaliser and inspire that incredible chant that is sung in enthusiastic and unmistakable Manc, so we should be buzzing – but it doesn’t exactly feel like it.

United are improving, we’re told. But, well, it doesn’t… you get the picture.

So let’s try and at least fashion the positives. Many is the time United have suffered continental capitulation. Busby had it in Lisbon. Fergie had it a few times. The phrase ‘Powell on for Mata’ has achieved infamy in recent club history. Diego Simeone’s team are still the reigning La Liga champions and United fashioned a result from a poor performance.

Ralf Rangnick addressed the questionable selection and the poor performances by utilising all of his substitutes and, as it did at the weekend (and as it has before – the German is developing a little bit of a knack for this) it paid dividends.

But this is a Simeone team that was missing key players from its starting lineup. They aren’t the suffocating beast they were a few years ago. They have been in indifferent form too. The issue is, you could say much the same for United (aside from the key players).

Rangnick appeared to have picked Victor Lindelof on the basis of his display at Elland Road – arguably his best for the club – and nobody would have grumbled if the Swede had been the first name in the middle of the defence. But he played at right-back. This is the danger with a new manager, even one in the job for nearly three months.

They try experiments that we’ve seen fail before. It’s the rinse and repeat method we’ve been made to suffer at the hands of the owners refusal to back the manager, and it’s a neat explanation for those who argue about the money United have spent when needing to explain the issue. United haven’t been able to turnover players like Manchester City, so once a manager pays the price mainly for the failures above him, a new one is left to subject the support to things that we know don’t work, to no benefit of the players.

And then there are the issues we don’t know. Paul Pogba remains an enigma but sometimes football is better when simplified. He is gifted and he is strong enough to not always be caught in possession the way he is. Maybe it’s just that when you play for United you are expected to have a certain tenacity about your play that at least makes you alert to the danger of dispossession – a base level of knowing that your opposite number is going to be aggressive.

That’s part of the fundamental requirement for being a United midfielder in a successful team and it’s one quality that Pogba – despite the many he does have – does not seem to possess. Too long a time has been spent trying to hope he’ll be something that he isn’t. United at their best are used to accommodating one outrageously talented player in their team, an individual, but this experiment says that it can’t be a player in midfield, whether it’s Pogba or someone else.

Not that Pogba was the worst player, or even the worst French World Cup winner, in United’s side. Varane struggled, but then so did others. Marcus Rashford was as poor as he has been in recent weeks. Ronaldo cut a frustrated and isolated figure but then you will be if you dawdle six yards behind the defence, slowing United’s build up by ten seconds every time. The line between Fernandes’ gambles and rash decisions grows thinner by the day, saved only by the fact he provided another assist.

You could scratch your head and wonder what it will take to fix it but some issues are depressingly predictable to the common fan. Most right-minded folk knew that Lindelof at right-back would eventually need to be changed. Most would have predicted the hosts would allow United to have the ball in the knowledge they wouldn’t do anything with it and so it proved. They went for more than two-thirds of the game without seriously pushing to get back into it.

Joao Felix’s wonderful header could have set the tone for the night. It suggested the Spanish side saw vulnerability – but they regressed to what was expected in the pre-match, and United, until those changes, never even seemed willing to accept the invitation to dominate the game in the way that possession figure should suggest.

And then Elanga had his magic moment, punishment for Simeone who seemed to believe his pre-match over the top hype of United, and never sought to kill the game off when Rangnick’s men were probably there for the taking.

In credit, Rangnick did acknowledge and address what was going wrong, and he was pointed in his post-match comments which suggested he was unhappy with the performance. He knows he will have to do better, too, if United are to progress even with home advantage in three weeks’ time.


De Gea 6

Lindelof 5

Varane 5

Maguire 5

Shaw 5

Fred 5

Pogba 4

Fernandes 5

Rashford 3

Sancho 5

Ronaldo 4

Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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