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Athletic hard-hitting toothless Man Utd to make Champions League quarters

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Atletico Madrid put the final nail in the coffin of a miserable season for Manchester United when Renan Lodi’s header sent the Spanish champions through to the Champions League quarter-finals with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford to advance 2-1 on aggregate.

The Brazilian full-back headed the back post without scoring four minutes before half-time to end United’s last chance at a trophy this season as they continue their drought without a trophy since 2017.

United now face a tall order just to return to the Champions League next season, as an underperforming team full of stars sit fifth in the Premier League.

Atletico’s own struggles to break into the top four of La Liga this season have shown their limitations.

But the experience of Diego Simeone’s men in the Champions League round of 16 shone through as they comfortably watched the game to reach the last eight for the sixth time in the last nine seasons.

Cristiano Ronaldo has always been Atlético’s scourge in the Champions League, twice delivering the knockout blow in final defeats to Real Madrid and scoring a hat-trick for Juventus to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the match. gone at this stage three years ago.

However, Simeone’s men eventually got past the 37-year-old as he did not make a significant impact in the tie.

Anthony Elanga came off the bench to save United’s 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital three weeks ago and the Swedish teenager was unlucky not to put the hosts ahead in the 13th-minute equalizer.

A low cross from Diogo Dalot took advantage of Elanga and his rebounding effort bounced off the head of Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak and was saved.

Atlético had been locked inside their own half for the first 15 minutes, but posed a threat every time they managed to string some passes together on the counterattack.

Rodrigo De Paul’s long distance effort forced David de Gea to make an impressive save to full length.

Joao Félix had scored five times in his previous five matches, including Atlético’s goal in the first leg, and finally began to live up to his €120 million ($131 million) price tag.

The Portuguese got the ball back in the net at the end of a deft move by Atletico that broke through a lead-footed United defence, but Marcos Llorente was flagged offside after a pass from Koke before Felix applied the finishing touch.

United did not learn their lesson, as they again easily opened up on the left for the decisive goal.

The home crowd was still clamoring for a foul on Elanga in the Atlético midfield when the visitors passed the ball forward to Félix, whose backheel found Antoine Griezmann and his cross chose the unmarked Lodi for a header.

Atletico resorted to the tried and tested tactics of Simeone’s reign in the second half as they were happy to sit up front and not too concerned about a United side short on ideas.

Ralf Rangnick made the bold call to retire Bruno Fernandes with 23 minutes remaining when he emptied his bench in search of an equalizer with Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani among those thrown.

But set pieces were the only source of danger for the hosts, as Oblak made an excellent save to deny Raphael Varane before getting back up off the pitch to catch Ronaldo’s acrobatic follow-up effort.

Those proved to be United’s last efforts on target as the visitors held their own, allowing Simeone to run down the touchline to celebrate full time.

kca/mw

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