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Atletico Madrid 1-1 Man Utd: Anthony Elanga strikes late to leave Champions League last-16 tie in balance

Match report as Anthony Elanga comes off the bench to claim an unlikely 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in the Spanish capital; Joao Felix gave Atletico seventh-minute lead

Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates after scoring their equaliser
Image: Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates

Teenager Anthony Elanga came to Manchester United's rescue as his 80th-minute strike secured a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Wanda Metropolitano.

United were seeking to emulate the three other English sides left in the Champions League by securing a first-leg lead in the first knockout round, and Ralf Rangnick said on the eve of the trip to Madrid that he was prioritising this competition.

But his side fell behind within seven minutes of kick-off in Spain. Having cleared the initial corner, Atleti left-back Renan Lodi swung in a cross from the left that Joao Felix raced past Harry Maguire to greet with a stunning header that went in off the near post.

The visitors bossed possession but did not look at all comfortable during an insipid first half. Cristiano Ronaldo, whistled throughout, became increasingly irate by Atletico's approach and the hosts went close to a second just before half-time as Sime Vrsaljko hit the crossbar.

Anthony Elanga celebrates his second-half equaliser
Image: Elanga celebrates his second-half equaliser

United had produced a listless display before substitute Elanga latched onto Bruno Fernandes' pass to reverse his shot across Jan Oblak into the bottom corner.

"I think that was my first touch as well," Elanga told BT Sport. "I've dreamt of moments like this, scoring in the Champions League against a top opponent such as Atletico, it's a dream come true. It's only half-time in the tie.

"I told you how calm and cool I am whenever I get an opportunity for the club. I leave nothing in the tank when I step out onto the pitch and I just enjoy it."

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With away goals no longer counting in Europe, it means the tie is firmly in the balance ahead of the return leg at Old Trafford on Tuesday March 15.

Player ratings

Atletico Madrid: Oblak (6), Savic (7), Gimenez (7), Mandava (7), Vrsaljko (7), Llorente (6), Kondogbia (8), Herrera (8), Renan Lodi (7), Correa (7), Joao Felix (8).

Subs: Griezmann (n/a), Lemar (n/a).

Man Utd: De Gea (6), Lindelof (5), Varane (5), Maguire (6), Shaw (5), Fred (6), Pogba (5), Rashford (4), Bruno Fernandes (5), Sancho (5), Ronaldo (5).

Subs: Alex Telles (6), Wan-Bissaka (6), Matic (6), Elanga (7), Lingard (n/a).

Man of the match: Joao Felix.

Elanga lifeline after Felix brilliance

Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix celebrates after scoring
Image: Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix celebrates after scoring

This last-16 first leg pitted together two sides enduring challenging seasons, with Diego Simeone's La Liga champions stuttering during a poor title defence.

Atletico have produced the kind of Jekyll and Hyde displays that those watching United have become accustomed to, although Rangnick's side had made it back-to-back wins with Sunday's thrilling 4-2 triumph at Leeds.

Team news

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick made three changes as Manchester United faced Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Fred, Marcus Rashford and Raphael Varane came in for the absent Scott McTominay, Jesse Lingard and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in Spain.

UEFA listed Bruno Fernandes as United's captain on their team sheet, although captain Harry Maguire was listed as skipper by the club. Former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez started on the bench for Atletico Madrid.

The hosts looked bright from the first whistle and their opener duly arrived after just seven minutes. Rangnick's decision to play Victor Lindelof at right-back was looking all the more curious when he failed to stop Renan Lodi's cross as Felix ghosted in between Maguire and Raphael Varane to launch himself at the ball.

David de Gea was rooted to the spot as the world's fourth most expensive player - signed for €126m from Benfica - saw his header crash into the net via the post.

Another hostile atmosphere welcomed United on Wednesday - especially goalkeeper De Gea - an Atletico academy graduate who left in 2011 and nearly joined rivals Real Madrid four years later - and Ronaldo.

No player has appeared more in the Champions League than the 37-year-old, who has five winners' medals to his name and been the scourge of Atletico time and time again down the years. But here his every touch was greeted with jeers and it was a fruitless first-half.

Joao Felix rises to brilliantly head Atletico in front
Image: Felix rises to brilliantly head Atletico in front

Vrsaljko was unfortunate not to double Atletico's lead on the stroke of half-time as his header deflected onto the bar off Lindelof, but something had to change at the break for United.

In an interview with TNT Sports Brazil, midfielder Fred recently described the club's decision to have an interim manager in charge until the end of the season as "strange", questioning whether there was a "long-term plan" in place.

Here, the plan was plain wrong. United hadn't had a single touch in the Atletico box. There were plenty of issues for Rangnick to address having seen his side give away possession on 50 occasions. And yet, there were no changes at the restart.

'The plan was in the dustbin'

Atletico Madrid vs Man Utd
Image: Man Utd were second best throughout the first half

On the failed experiment of using Lindelof at right-back, Rangnick would say afterwards: "To start with, we could do with him in aerial duels, set-pieces, free-kicks for and against us. All three centre-halves were in good shape, but after seven minutes we were 1-0 down the plan was in the dustbin.

"I knew this was not his best position, when we had Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the ball and Alex Telles, we had more possession and more assistance from the wings. In the end, due to the early goal it was difficult.

"In the second half we showed in quite a few moments how we have to play. It will be different at home in front of 75,000 fans and more conviction than we did in the first half."

"I don't know if I rescued it but after the performance in the first half it could only get better. In the first half, I still can't believe what we did. We played without conviction and the necessary aggression. In the second half we did better. If we'd had another 10 minutes we may well have won the game.

"Against the ball and with the ball we were far too apprehensive. It's difficult to prevent the early goal - it was a brilliant cross and sprint to the front post - but we have to be more aggressive."

'Role model' Elanga sets example

Anthony Elanga celebrates his goal with Jadon Sancho
Image: Elanga celebrates his goal with Jadon Sancho

United just needed to stay in the tie. Ronaldo's 79th-minute free-kick sailed harmlessly over the bar, with his compatriot Felix winning the battle of the No 7s and deservedly taking a standing ovation as he departed after 76 minutes, but it would be Elanga who provided an unlikely twist with United's first shot on target.

Ronaldo was involved with his cushioned header into the path of Fred setting off the United swift transition as Fernandes spotted the run of Elanga. Oblak was all at sea as the 19-year-old spotted the opportunity for an early shot to surprise the Atletico goalkeeper as he found the far corner.

There was still time for substitute Antoine Griezmann to lift an audacious effort onto De Gea's crossbar from Marcos Llorente's pass in the final five minutes but United dug deep to frustrate their opponents.

Rangnick added: "With the goal we scored, we showed exactly how we must play against them. Anthony is playing as if a dream has come true. It's a joy to watch him play and I wished some of the other players used him as an example and as a role model.

"He enjoys himself on the pitch and this is how I hope we play collectively in the future."

Analysis: Elanga pounces to paper over the cracks

Sky Sports' Ben Grounds:

It is now three goals this season for Elanga, and his latest could make a huge difference to United's Champions League campaign. His cool, opportune finish leaves this tie with Atletico on a knife-edge and it was scarcely deserved.

United, looking disjointed and lacking spark, were cornered from the start by a relentless Atleti, who had many opportunities to extend their lead and hit the post twice but were punished by a defensive mistake which gifted the ball to Fernandes 10 minutes from time.

United's chief creator was poor all night but needed only one opportunity to make a difference, sliding his pass perfectly into Elanga's path. His precise shot was one of only two United efforts on target in the whole game. It was a goal which papers over the cracks for Rangnick.

United lacked movement and they lacked ideas, even against an Atletico team who are a shadow of their former snarly selves at this level. There are still a number of questions that need to be answered ahead of the second leg.

This was Simeone's 562nd game in charge of Atletico in a reign stretching well over a decade. His side had already lost more games and conceded more goals than in the entirety of their championship-winning campaign in 2020/21. They are a far more potent force this term away from home. United have been warned: this tie is far from over.

Man of the match: Joao Felix

Joao Felix scores the opening goal of the game
Image: David de Gea is beaten by Felix's header

João Félix's opener for Atlético Madrid (6:17) was the earliest goal Manchester United have conceded in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League since Ronaldinho's strike (2:11) for Milan in the last 16 back in 2009-10.

Félix netted his 24th goal for Atlético Madrid in all competitions, however his opener was just his second headed goal for the club, with his only previous such goal coming against Cádiz in La Liga in November 2020.

Opta stats

  • Atlético Madrid remain winless in their last seven home UEFA Champions League matches (D4 L3), since beating FC Red Bull Salzburg 3-2 in last season's group stages, extending their longest run without a win on home soil in the competition.
  • Manchester United have only won one of their last eight away trips to Spain in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League (D5 L2), beating Deportivo de La Coruña 2-0 in April 2002.
  • Anthony Elanga, who scored with Manchester United's first shot on target in the game, became the Red Devils' youngest ever goalscorer in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League (19y & 302d).
  • The average age of Manchester United's starting XI this evening was 28 years & 132 days, their oldest for a UEFA Champions League game since the first leg of their 2013-14 quarter final against FC Bayern München (28y & 341d).

What's next?

Manchester United host Watford in the Premier League on Saturday at 3pm while Atletico Madrid are at home to Celta Vigo on the same day at 8pm in La Liga.

The return leg takes place at Old Trafford on Tuesday March 15 at 8pm.

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