The heroism of Anthony Elanga prevented Ralf Rangnick from being subjected to considerably greater scrutiny if it had not been for his actions.
When Manchester United played Atletico Madrid three weeks ago in Spain, they were overpowered by a team that didn't appear to be the intimidating force they once were. As a result, Atletico Madrid sprang back to life in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 encounter, even though they had already lost to the basement club a week earlier in La Liga.
After only six minutes, they had taken the lead through Joao Felix, and given the number of fantastic chances they went on to generate, United should have been out of the game by the time the 80th minute rolled around. However, they were not. With the help of David de Gea, United were able to maintain their lead long enough for Elanga to be passed through on goal and score with his first touch into the far corner.
One of the greatest moments in the tie's history, and one that has completely changed its appearance. With a victory over Atletico Madrid at home, they would have had the opportunity to travel to Manchester United and frustrate them for 90 minutes in traditional manner.
They will now travel to Old Trafford, where they will undoubtedly be bouncing, knowing that they will have to come out on top if they are to avoid the tie going the distance. From being in a commanding position, the mood has shifted, and United are now more confident.
Aside from giving United a better chance of making it to the quarterfinals, Elanga's goal also helped to deflect attention away from Rangnick. With two true right-backs sitting on the bench, the interim manager decided to start Victor Lindelof at the right back position in the encounter.
His performance against Leeds on Saturday was particularly impressive since he was able to come out of his own half with the ball in his hands. Perhaps Rangnick saw the need to reward him for his excellent performances by keeping him in the team, and given that Raphael Varane had returned to fitness and had to be re-inserted, right-back was the only position available to take his place in the lineup. His aerial presence during the set-piece was also regarded as a contributing factor.
Yet the experiment proved to be a complete and total disaster! Diego Simeone couldn't believe his good fortune, as Atletico Madrid pounced on Manchester United's right wing with relish, with Renan Lodi posing a continuous threat on the flank. To make matters worse, Lindelof could not get near the Brazilian and he set up the opening goal.
Rangnick should be praised for how he ran the game during the match. His substitutions on the 66th minute, which saw Lindelof, Paul Pogba, and Luke Shaw replaced by Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Nemanja Matic, and Alex Telles, helped stop Atletico's momentum and get Manchester United back into the game. Many were perplexed as to why Pogba, who had performed admirably, was substituted and why three defensive changes were made at a time when United required a goal, but the substitutes assisted United in regaining control in midfield, which ultimately resulted in an equaliser.
Anthony Elanga of Manchester United.
Even though Rangnick performed admirably during the game, the error he committed before the game should not be overlooked. It had been more than 18 months since Lindelof had played right-back, and he had only played the position five times before joining United. One of those games was a 4-0 loss to Everton. Playing him at a position that was new to him in such a major game was a significant risk that backfired and came dangerously near to costing the team the game. The possibility of taking such a risk in the second leg may not be worth it for United in the end.
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