MATCHDAY: Man U at Atletico in CL; Liverpool plays in EPL
A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Wednesday:
The final two first-leg matches in the last 16 see Atletico Madrid host Manchester United and Ajax travel to Benfica. Three of the teams are former European champions — the exception being Atletico, whose title ambitions have been repeatedly thwarted by Cristiano Ronaldo mainly during his time at Real Madrid but also at Juventus. Now at United, Ronaldo is still scoring freely in the competition. He netted in all five of the group-stage games he played. The Champions League is both teams’ final hope of major silverware this season, with Atletico’s title defense in Spain in tatters and United fighting simply to finish fourth in the English Premier League. Atletico hasn’t lost any of its 14 home matches in the knockout stage of the Champions League since 1997. Fuelling Ajax’s run of six wins from six in the group stage was Sebastien Haller, who scored in each of the games — only Ronaldo has achieved that before — and is the competition’s leading scorer with 10. Benfica is playing in the knockout stage for the first time since 2017 while Ajax is at this stage for just the second time since 2006. The other time was in 2019 when the Dutch team got to the semifinals.
Liverpool can trim Manchester City’s lead in the Premier League to three points with a home win over injury-hit Leeds. It would be City’s smallest lead since the end of December and set up what could be a thrilling title race with 12 games each remaining, including the teams’ meeting at City’s Etihad Stadium in April. With Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino injured, Liverpool is likely to stick with the new front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz. They will face an already-stretched Leeds defense that will also be missing Robin Koch, who is completing return-to-play protocols after suffering a concussion in the 4-2 loss against Manchester United on Sunday. Leeds has conceded 10 goals in its last three games and is only five points clear of the relegation zone. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp might give some players reduced minutes ahead of the League Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday.
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