Champions League: Who fans want United to face
The line-up for the 2021/22 Champions League round of 16 is now complete, with Manchester United's Group F rivals Villarreal becoming the final team to book their place in Monday’s draw.
The Yellow Submarine finished as runners-up behind the Reds by impressively winning 3-2 away to Atalanta in a rearranged game this evening (Thursday), although there was some alarm for Unai Emery's side when the Italian hosts threatened a comeback in Bergamo with two late goals by Ruslan Malinovskyi and Duvan Zapata.
The visitors from Spain had earlier cruised into a 3-0 lead by the 51st minute, through a double from Arnaut Danjuma that was split either side of an Etienne Capoue effort.
Villarreal's progress means the completed winners and runners-up pots are confirmed as follows, in order of group:
United cannot be drawn against Atalanta or Villarreal as they were in the same group as us, while competition rules prevent two sides from the same nation meeting until the quarter-final stage. That means a tie with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea is also off the cards, leaving six potential opponents.
On Wednesday night, we asked you which of these half-dozen teams you’d most like to face, so here’s a rundown of the poll results along with more information about each potential opponent.
ATLETICO MADRID (4%)
Only four per cent of fans want us to be pitted against Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions in the next stage. The three-time finalists squeaked through from Liverpool’s group, with a feisty 3-1 win in Porto on matchday six lifting them from bottom of the pool to second. Simeone’s side blend their traditional defensive wiliness with the stardust of Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix and Luis Suarez in attack and they have progressed beyond the round of 16 in five of their last eight participations, which perhaps explains why so many want to avoid them.
Past meetings: The Spaniards defeated holders United 4-1 on aggregate in the 1991/92 Cup Winners’ Cup, with mercurial Portuguese winger Paulo Future starring.
Benfica’s 3-0 victory over Barcelona on matchday two proved key in establishing an early advantage in Group E. Despite only taking one point from their next three, a 2-0 success over Dynamo Kiev this week ensured second spot and consigned the Catalans to the Europa League. Regulars in this competition, the Eagles are participating in the knockout stage for the first time since 2017 and boast an experienced side, with former Premier League defenders Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen regulars at the back. Rafa Silva and Darwin Nunez are important players in attack but only 12 per cent of United supporters are set on a meeting in the new year.
Past meetings: Perhaps that's because the Lisbon side are familiar opponents, with 11 past clashes between the two clubs, including the 1968 European Cup final.
RB SALZBURG (35%)
A club with connections to our interim manager Ralf Rangnick – the German was formerly sporting director there – Salzburg have qualified for this stage for the first time. Lively forward Karim Adeyemi caught the eye in the group stage, scoring three goals and earning an incredible four penalties, three of them in the Austrian champions’ opening clash with Sevilla alone. Salzburg’s squad for the first phase of this season’s competition had an average age of just over 22, making them the youngest of all 32 competing teams, but they finished above the six-time Europa League winners by virtue of a 1-0 home win over the Spaniards on matchday six. According to our poll, the Austrians are your favoured round-of-16 opposition, taking 35 per cent of the vote.
Past meetings: None. United have previously played Salzburg's compatriots Rapid Vienna, Sturm Graz and LASK competitively.
Just seven per cent of Reds fancy a two-legged tie with the Italian champions who, despite finishing second behind Real Madrid in Group D, have lost just once in Serie A this season and look a solid bet to retain their title. Shorn of stars Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, plus manager Antonio Conte, during the summer, Inter still boast a strong and experienced squad spine, which includes highly rated centre-back Milan Skriniar, Italy’s Euro 2020 hero Nicolo Barella and the prolific Lautaro Martinez. New boss Simone Inzaghi can also count on two United old boys in Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian, while former Manchester City forward Edin Dzeko loves to score against us.
Past meetings: United are unbeaten in all four clashes with the Nerazzurri, winning 3-1 on aggregate on the way to the Treble in 1999 and beating Jose Mourinho’s Inter 2-0 at this stage a decade later.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (16%)
Perhaps the most glamorous of all our potential round-of-16 opposition, PSG’s star-studded attacking trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and, of course, Lionel Messi can strike fear into the hearts of any side in Europe, but quality abounds in every position, with Keylor Navas and Gianluigi Donnarumma competing for the goalkeeper spot and Marquinhos and Marco Verratti being vital outfielders. The Parisians have already built a formidable lead in Ligue 1 but had to settle for a runners-up spot in Champions League Group A, behind our neighbours City. PSG have become familiar foes in recent years and 16 per cent of fans are keen to have the fifth and sixth instalments of the rivalry in 2022.
Past meetings: Four games since 2019, all of which have been won by the away side. The Reds’ miraculous comeback at the Parc des Princes three seasons ago will never be forgotten.
SPORTING CLUB (26%)
Your second preferred opponents behind Salzburg are Sporting, who qualified ahead of Borussia Dortmund by virtue of the head-to-head rule. They may not have an Erling Braut Haaland in their line-up, but the former club of Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are Portuguese champions and don’t lose too many games: they’ve suffered defeat just once in their last 47 in the Primeira Liga. Former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates won the league’s Player of the Year award last season, while Pedro Goncalves is the star in attack for Ruben Amorim’s side, hitting 23 goals in 37 games in 2020/21 after Fernandes’s departure to United.
Past meetings: Sporting handed United our heaviest European defeat, 5-0, in 1964 but we’ve won the other three meetings, with Ronaldo on the scoresheet in both 2007 group-stage encounters.