Rangnick admits Atletico have ‘slight advantage’, but warns Simeone of ‘perfect’ Man Utd factor

Man Utd manager Ralf Rangnick

Ralf Rangnick believes that the blend of experience and youth in his Manchester United team can handle the Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid.

The two sides face off at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday in the first leg of their last 16 tie. The visitors have turned a corner in recent matches following struggles to retain leads.

Indeed, they beat Brighton 2-0 at Old Trafford before responding to Leeds United’s comeback on Sunday with a 4-2 win.

But if Man Utd handled the Elland Road atmosphere against their bitter rivals, Atletico’s home crowd will prove another tough test.

Diego Simeone’s side, who won La Liga last season, have dropped off this term. Nevertheless, they have proved tricky opponents for Liverpool in the Champions League in the past.

Their resolute defending stands out as one of their hallmarks. Rangnick indeed hailed Simeone, who recently celebrated 10 years at the Atletico helm, for his “clear identity” and passion.

However, Man Utd’s interim boss insisted that his own group of players has the “perfect” blend to handle the occasion – even if Atletico have had an extra day to prepare.

“In the Champions League, you need to perform at the highest level in all those areas that you have mentioned,” Rangnick told his pre-match press conference.

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“We had a game on Sunday, a very physical one. Atletico played away at Osasuna on Saturday so there might be a slight advantage with regard to recovery on their side.

“But we have made sure the players could recover in the last few days and maybe we will have some fresh legs on the pitch. We will see tomorrow.

“Tactically and physically, we need to play on a high level. Mentally we need to prepare for a very emotional, if not hostile, atmosphere tomorrow.

“I think we have enough experience in the team and on the other hand enough talented young players. I think the mix of those two groups is perfect.”

Rangnick added that he thinks United will decide their fate in the second leg at Old Trafford, not away in Spain.

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Man Utd manager Ralf Rangnick

Amid talk of United’s struggles to reach the Premier League summit, they have also struggled in Europe’s premier competition since their last league triumph in 2013.

The last time they reached the Champions League final came in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona.

Since then, United have not got past the quarter-final stage. Indeed, they have often ended up playing in the Europa League in recent seasons instead.

Asked if United need to regularly be in the semi-finals and beyond in the Champions League to be called one of the world’s biggest clubs, Rangnick said: “Yeah, but we also have to be realistic. There have to be some reasons why it wasn’t the case in the past.

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“We should not be interested too much in the past years.

“We have the chance to proceed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but in order to do that we have to show that we are up for that, that we can beat Atletico.

“To say that a club like Manchester United should regularly be in the semi-finals of the Champions League, I could name you quite a few other clubs in Europe where this would also be the case.

“Some of them even play in the second division in Germany. I can tell you three or four clubs where this is the case.”

After playing Atletico, Man Utd play Watford at Old Trafford on Saturday.

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