Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo fails to deliver Champions League magic for Man Utd

Grey Whitebloom
It was a frustrating night individually for Cristiano Ronaldo
It was a frustrating night individually for Cristiano Ronaldo / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages
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The last time Atletico Madrid hosted Cristiano Ronaldo for a Champions League knockout tie, the then-Juventus forward stormed through the mixed zone with a bubbling fury in the wake of his side’s first-leg defeat.

Brandishing an open palm, Ronaldo displayed his personal tally of Champions League trophies (five) before reminding all those present of how many such titles Atletico as a club had collected, zero.

Following Manchester United's round of 16 tie at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night, there were no need for any such histrionics from the returning number seven.

However, Ronaldo was spared the salty pang of defeat this week by virtue of a substitute 18 years his junior.

Ronaldo played a minor role in Anthony Elanga's 80th-minute equaliser, heading the ball to Fred inside his own half before Bruno Fernandes cantered forward to tee up the teenager several phases of play - and an Atletico error or two - later.

Yet, he wasn't even the best Portuguese number seven on the pitch.

Joao Felix opened the scoring for Atletico inside seven minutes, darting untracked between the lumbering statues of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane - as he did all evening- to steer Renan Lodi's vicious cross off the post with a diving header.

The frustration with Felix during his Atletico career has been an inability to consistently produce the devastating, flair-ridden performances Manchester United endured on Wednesday. Given the naturally withdrawn approach of Diego Simeone's side, Felix is forced to embark upon his wriggles within his own half most of the time.

That was very much not the case in a blisteringly proactive first half from Atletico. Buoyed by their early lead, the hosts penned Manchester United into their own half with a crisply-organised press that perfectly picked its moments to pounce.

Manchester United had two-thirds possession in the first half, but more than 60% of the passes that were played in either final third were completed by Atletico in sight of David de Gea's goal.

For all that sterile possession, Manchester United simply couldn't get the ball to Ronaldo. The 37-year-old veteran was limited to just two efforts all match, both thoroughly unremarkable and off target.

It was the first time since Juventus’ galling 1-0 loss to Lyon in the 2020 Champions League round of 16 that Ronaldo hasn’t forced the opposition keeper into a save in Europe’s premier club competition.

Since re-joining Manchester United, Ronaldo's shooting overall has fallen off a (relative) cliff. For the first time in a decade, the trigger happy forward fired off just 5.1 shots per game in his final full season at Juventus. That already declined figure has dropped further to just 3.4 efforts per Premier League outing this term.

Yet, to lay the blame solely at Ronaldo's door overlooks the decided lack of fluency between the teammates around him. Across the group stages, only Atletico's Antoine Griezmann had scored a larger proportion of his team's Champions League goals among clubs that qualified for the knockout rounds.

Manchester United's best spells in the contest - and during Ralf Rangnick's brief tenure - have been when they can win the ball off their opponents in the opposition half and drive forward from there.

Atletico Madrid have conceded more goals and recorded more defeats than they did in the entirety of last season. Yet, Simeone's side were made to look like a well-oiled machine compared to Manchester United’s creaking collection of mismatched and malfunctioning parts - off which Ronaldo is the most glaring element.

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