Manchester United welcome Italian side Atalanta at Old Trafford in a Champions League group stage game on Wednesday.
The Red Devils are third in their group having picked up three points in two games. After an opening day upset at BSC Young Boys, they bounced back with a 2-1 home win over Villarreal thanks to an injury-time winner from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Atalanta, their Wednesday’s opponents, are top of Group F with four points in two games. They beat BSC Young Boys 1-0 at home in their last group-stage fixture and fly to Manchester off the back of a morale-boosting 4-1 win over Empoli in Serie A.
Without further delay, let’s have a look at the key battles that await us on Wednesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Merih Demiral
Cristiano Ronaldo is known as Mr. Champions League for a reason and he’ll be looking to continue his love affair with Europe’s elite competition.
Atalanta knows stopping Ronaldo will be key in getting a positive result out of this tie. In skipper Rafael Toloi’s injury absence, Merih Demiral will have the responsibility of marshalling Atalanta’s defence. The Turkish defender knows Ronaldo inside out having spent time together at former club Juventus.
Thus, there’s every chance Ronaldo’s battle with Demiral could determine the outcome of the game on Wednesday.
Marten de Roon vs Bruno Fernandes
Marten de Roon is the silent conductor of Atalanta’s play under Gian Piero Gasperini and the fans clearly know how important is the deep-lying midfielder is to their cause.
The Dutchman’s energy, passing technique and ball-winning skills will be of great importance to La Dea on Wednesday. In addition to dictating play, De Roon will have to keep Manchester United’s creator-in-chief—Bruno Fernandes—silent.
Fernandes represents a lot of energy and workload in the Red Devils’ midfield. He’s not in the greatest of forms at the moment but can penetrate a well-drilled backline with his sharp vision or clever movement. The Portuguese playmaker will certainly start in such a big game and it’ll be interesting to watch how De Roon stops Fernandes from playing his natural game.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof vs Duvan Zapata
Harry Maguire arguably had his worst game in a Man United shirt on Saturday against his former club Leicester City, who humbled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 4-2 at the King Power Stadium. He was culpable for all four goals scored by the Foxes.
With Raphael Varane out injured, Maguire has to lead the team from the back. He’ll partner Victor Lindelof in central defence and the duo will be tasked with stopping Atalanta’s powerhouse, Duvan Zapata.
With four goals and two assists in six Serie A games so far this season, Zapata will look to play on the final shoulder of Man United’s defence and cause problems with his pace, power and physicality.
Both Maguire and Lindelof are susceptible to fast forwards, so the duo are set for an uphill task against the Colombian battering ram at Old Trafford.
I am Rohan Sengupta from one of the busiest cities in India, Mumbai. A Journalism graduate with a keen interest in sports, football is something I simply cannot live without and writing, discussing and analyzing the game is what I do 24*7.