Manchester United were dumped from the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday following a dispiriting 1-0 home defeat to Atletico Madrid.
Interim United boss Ralf Rangnick threw Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, and Juan Mata into the fray as his side tried to restore parity in the second half, but they ultimately failed to vanquish Renan Lodi’s first-half header for the visitors.
Atleti may have tended to some old wounds with the 2-1 aggregate victory. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t register a shot on target across both legs after notching 25 goals over 35 appearances against Atletico Madrid before the doubleheader.
Ronaldo was partnered with Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga in attack, and it was the latter member of that trio who came closest to scoring in the opening half. The teenager met Bruno Fernandes’ low cross from the right with his left foot, but his resulting shot rebounded away from the goal after smashing ‘keeper Jan Oblak in the face.
Lodi, whose crossing tormented United in the first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano, was instead on the end of a delivery when he put Atleti ahead. Rodrigo De Paul slid the ball through a gap in the hosts’ defense and Joao Felix ran onto it, expertly holding possession before releasing Antoine Griezmann with an intelligent backheel.
Griezmann’s first-time cross was immaculate as it flew over United’s backline toward the back post. Lodi was unmarked when he nodded past David De Gea, prompting a reaction from right-back Diogo Dalot which suggested he had no clue where the scorer had ghosted in from.
At 1-0, Atleti reverted to type. Though their defense hasn’t been as sturdy this term, Diego Simeone’s side tightened up on this occasion, often shaping a back six out of possession and frustrating United with their physical style.
United’s best chance for an equalizer came from a set-piece. Alex Telles sent a free-kick toward Raphael Varane, but the trophy-laden defender’s header was kept out by an instinctive Oblak stop. With five saves over the whole match, Oblak furnished his reputation as one the world’s finest in his position.
Rangnick couldn’t be accused of being overly conservative as Fred and Harry Maguire were among those sacrificed for more attack-minded players in the second stanza. However, their fruitless evening was perhaps summed up by a clash of heads between Ronaldo and Maguire as they jostled under an aerial ball.
And despite their raft of attacking substitutions, United’s final shot was a long-distance strike from Dalot in the 82nd minute that went wide.
“It was hard in the second half and always interrupted. There was always somebody lying on the floor,” Rangnick said post-match, according to BBC Sport.
“I would also say some curious refereeing decisions. I wouldn’t say they were decisive but at least he fell too often for those time-wasting antics and four minutes at the end added on was a joke for me.”