Doubts and a certainty: Cristiano

Atleti breathed just when he needed it most. Over the weekend, in Pamplona, ​​getting his head out of the crisis, recovering his essence, dispelling doubts when the Champions League returns, these round of 16 that it cost him so much to reach. Receive Manchester United, a team with a twin path for the 2021-22 seasonfull of great footballers that does not finish starting (follow the match live on AS.com). He has not linked three victories since December, the stability to look up in the Premier (4th, with 46 points, 17 behind City, the leader). Crisis of results, wardrobe and a certainty: that in Rangnick’s team travels a black beasta footballer who, although he only scores one goal in 2022, one in the last eight games, has scored 25 for Atleti in 35 games (0.70 on average). It’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Since he left Madrid (22 goals against the rojiblancos) he only returned to the Metropolitano once with another shirt. That of Juve, also in a round of 16. The first leg, in Madrid, was harmless, transparent. On the way back he charged it. Three goals and the rojiblancos to the gutter in the competition.

Nothing makes Cholo more favorite than not being one. At least that’s how it’s been for a decade, especially on nights like this, big nights, fist-on-the-table nights, the the Champions there. But this season nothing of what has been seems to be anymore. The last champion of LaLiga, reinforced with bites and De Paul, off the cliff, with numbers from pre-Cholo times, never seen with the Argentine. 42 of 75 possible points in the League. 34 goals conceded (never so many). Chronic lack of forcefulness, lack of solidity, wormholes in his defense that become, in each set piece or lateral center, fast highways towards the most human Oblakthat miracles of before only in Porto and little else.

But in Pamplona he left his goal to zero, something had not happened since January 6 (Cup, Majadahonda). He regained essence. Best defense, midfield (with the entry of Herrera), clinging to that loot that has become a flashlight, that of Ángel Correa. It is the face of Cristiano’s cross in 2022: seven goals already this year (the team’s top scorer, with 12).

Koke's photo

Atleti arrives in this round of 16 leg with that vitamin that even fills Suárez’s legs, a great goal from 40 meters. That vitamin called João Félix and for whom, today, it will not be another duel: he faces the Portuguese called to replace, that Cristiano with whom he shares a representative and has not yet arrived, all talent, sparks that are not keep, like shooting stars. He will be the starter. Or so it seems, from the Cholo tests. Along with Correa. In front of a line of three, with Llorente where he does damage, inside, where two years ago in round of 16 like these, to which Atleti arrived the same, with doubts as to whether they would enter the Champions League or not, against the bogeyman of Europe, he became a hero. Defense, the line of five. To the absence of Carrasco (sanctioned, first of the three games), Wass and Cunha, Koke is addedmuscle, two days ago. Griezmann, meanwhile, is coming back, still without minutes.

Every mistake they make can be a conviction. Cholo knows it only by looking beyond Cristiano at what Rangnick has: Rashford and Sancho. The latter is, today, his best player, with Pogba. With only the loss of Cavani, Cholo’s old wish, his idea of ​​the game is clear: high pressure to steal as close as possible to the opposing goal and look for the goal. Quick cons, transitionsBruno Fernandes with the periscope and De Gea, that goalkeeper who was a child of the Calderón, saving, this year yes, like Oblak so many times.