Manchester: Atletico Madrid knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League and moved into the quarter-finals after a 41st minute header from Brazilian Renan Lodi gave them a 1-0 (2-1 aggregate) win at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
It was a typical display of the kind of gritty defending and swift counter-attacking for which Diego Simeone’s Atletico side have been known while United, for all their pressure, were unable to create enough quality opportunities to get themselves the goal they needed.
United, who have not won a trophy since the Europa League in 2017, are left to focus on a Premier League campaign where they face a real battle to make the top four and earn a place in next year’s Champions League.
The Spanish champions may not be favourites to reach the final in Paris on May 28 but none of the teams in the last eight will be hoping to be drawn against them.
After Saturday’s win over Tottenham Hotspur, inspired by a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, there was a positive mood around Old Trafford and the night began brightly for United with Anthony Elanga forcing a fine reflex save out of Jan Oblak with a near post flick from a Bruno Fernandes cross.
United’s Spanish keeper David de Gea then produced an outstanding diving save to push wide a long range effort from Rodrigo De Paul.
Joao Felix then had the ball in the net, tapping in a cross from Marcos Llorente but the effort was ruled out for offside.
There was no reprieve though for United, though, when after a trademark Atletico counter-attack, a clever flick from Joao Felix found Antoine Griezmann whose cross was nodded in at the back post by Lodi.
United argued that the move had followed a foul on Elanga deep in Atletico’s half but referee Slavko Vincic waved away their protests.
Fernandes ended the half with a fierce shot that again tested Oblak to the full and raised hopes among the home support ahead of the second half.
United, as expected, poured forward after the break in search of an equaliser but there was little design or craft to their attacks.
LACK OF CREATIVITY Interim manager Ralf Rangnick threw on forwards as he sought the breakthrough bringing on Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani to play up front with Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho.
But his decision to take off Fernandes in the 67th minute left the team short of creativity and their attacks were increasingly just one dimensional charges at the Atletico back line.
Captain Harry Maguire was taken off, to cheers from the home support, as Rangnick threw on Spanish winger Juan Mata but the nearest United came to an equaliser was a fine header from Raphael Varane that had Oblak at full stretch.
It was scrappy and at times cynical from Atletico in the latter stages but their disciplined defence held firm for the victory that sends them into the last eight.
“We want to go far in the competition and it’s incredible to still be in it. It’s important for us to still be in the Champions League in what’s an up-and-down season,” said midfielder Koke.
“For me, Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world. He’s shown it once again tonight.” Rangnick was upset with the refereeing of the game but had few complaints about his team’s performance.
“I think we played a very good first half — exactly the way we wanted to play with a high energy level but we couldn’t convert that into one or two goals,” he said.
“Conceding that counter-attacking goal just before halftime didn’t make life any easier. It was hard in the second half and always interrupted. There was always somebody lying on the floor.
“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.