Manchester United will be aiming to take a step towards securing qualification for the knockout stages when they take on Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League.

Matchday four of the group stages of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League kick-off on Tuesday night. And, an under-pressure Manchester United side will travel to Italy as they prepare to lock horns with Atalanta at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia in a bid to achieve progression to the next round.

Manchester United endured a torrid spell over the past month where they succumbed to heavy defeats against the likes of Liverpool and Leicester City. They survived by the skin of their teeth against Villarreal and Atalanta in the Champions League courtesy of late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo. Due to those last-ditch wins, the Red Devils are currently seated at the top of Group F, with two wins in three games.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come under intense pressure for the recent results and the performances. But the weekend 3-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur has earned a temporary stay of execution for the Norwegian, who will be hoping that his team can build on that result and bag another victory to edge closer to the knockout stages.

Atalanta, meanwhile, are third in the group with four points on the board from three games so far. The Serie A outfit started their European campaign with a draw against second-placed Villarreal before beating BSC Young Boys. And, while it looked like they would be taking home three points against Manchester United at Old Trafford as well, a spirited display from Solskjaer’s men dashed those hopes.

Heading into the game, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have won just one of their last four matches across all competitions and were held to a 2-2 draw by Lazio in their most recent fixture this past weekend. La Dea will be hoping to bounce back to winning form and boost their chances of making it through the next round in the Champions League.

Ahead of what could be yet another exciting contest like the one at Old Trafford last month, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Atalanta

Atalanta have greeted some positive news on the injury front as defender Jose Luis Palomino is fit and available for selection after recovering from his fitness issue, while Berat Djimsiti has also been named in the squad by manager Gian Piero Gasperini. However, they continue to be without key men Rafael Toloi, Robin Gosens, Matteo Pessina and Hans Hateboer.

With Djimsiti and Palomino back in contention, they ought to slot right back into the starting XI for the home team, pairing up with Merih Demiral to form a three-man backline shielding Juan Musso in goal. Meanwhile, Davide Zappacosta and Joakim Maehle will slot in as the two wing-backs charged with providing the attacking width when in possession.

Marten de Roon, who was on target against Lazio over the weekend, should return to his natural habitat in the centre of the park after starting in defence last time out. He is likely to be partnered by Remo Freuler in the centre, with Teun Koopmeiners being an option from the bench for Gasperini.

Josip Ilicic, whose movement caused Manchester United many problems last time out, is a certainty in one of the two attacking midfield slots. He is likely to be paired up with Ruslan Malinovskyi, who will be in charge of creating the openings for the main striker Duvan Zapata. Luis Muriel is more than a capable option that Atalanta can call upon from the substitutes’ bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Musso; Djimsiti, Demiral, Palomino; Zappacosta, de Roon, Freuler, Maehle; Ilicic, Malinovskyi; Zapata

Manchester United

Manchester United have been dealt with a fresh injury blow as defender Victor Lindelof picked up a knock during a training session on Monday and will miss out. Former Atalanta whizkid, Amad Diallo, has been included in the 25-man squad by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who will also be able to call upon Paul Pogba after the Frenchman missed the weekend clash due to a domestic suspension.

Solskjaer is expected to stick with the three-man defensive line that worked a treat for his team in the win over Tottenham. There will, however, be a change of personnel, with Eric Bailly set to fill in for the injured Lindelof alongside Raphael Varane and captain Harry Maguire. The trio will protect David de Gea between the sticks for Manchester United.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka showed good attacking intent as a wing-back last time out and will look to add more polish to his end product. On the left side, Alex Telles could be given a rare start by Solskjaer, with Luke Shaw making way. Scott McTominay is likely to keep his place in the centre of the park, where he will need to protect the defence.

The Scotsman is likely to be partnered by the returning Pogba, who will have the freedom to push higher up the pitch and play alongside Bruno Fernandes to try and pick apart the Atalanta defence with piercing forward passes. Even though Edinson Cavani starred against Tottenham, he is likely to drop out on Tuesday to make way for Marcus Rashford, who will partner Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Bailly, Varane, Maguire; Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Telles; Fernandes; Ronaldo, Rashford

Key Stats

  • Manchester United have only last one of their previous 11 games against Italian opponents in the UEFA Champions League (W8 D2).
  • Atalanta have only won one of their five games against English teams in the Champions League (D1 L3).
  • Manchester United are looking to record their 150th victory in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, which would make them the first English club to reach the milestone and fourth overall after Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
  • Since the start of the last season, Duvan Zapata has been directly involved in three of Atalanta’s four goals at home in the Champions League.
  • Since returning to Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in all three of his UEFA Champions League appearances (three goals). The last player to score in four consecutive appearances for the club in the competition was Ruud van Nistelrooy (a run of nine).

Player to Watch

Marcus Rashford

It has been a tough season for the Englishman, who only returned to action last month after being sidelined from the start of the season, as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Since coming back, though, Rashford, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Sunday, has looked like a man on a mission, as he already has scored three goals from four matches, including one in the last Champions League clash against Atalanta.

Having not started against Tottenham, the 24-year-old showed his frustration when celebrating his goal after coming on. Set to be rewarded with a starting berth against La Dea, the Manchester United academy graduate will aim to carry on from where he left off. He can do some major damage to their defence with his sheer pace, directness and clinical finishing.

Prediction

Atalanta 1-2 Manchester United

Having leaked many goals in recent games, Manchester United decided to switch things up at the back in the last game, and it worked well for them, as they managed to keep a clean sheet against Tottenham. The return of Raphael Varane also adds a lot to their defence. And even though Atalanta will be a whole different animal in comparison to Spurs, they are likely to find it difficult to score goals as easily as they did in the reverse fixture.

At the other end, with Cristiano Ronaldo in fine form, Marcus Rashford kicking on, and the likes of Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood available as options on the bench, the Red Devils should be able to clinch a victory on their trip to Italy, giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some breathing space after a period of intense, relentless pressure.

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