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Champions League - Football: Red Devils can punish inconsistent Atleti

The Wanda Metropolitano was once a fortress for Atletico Madrid, but Diego Simeone's side have it all to do as they prepare to face Manchester United in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League clash.

Atleti, the reigning La Liga champions, were usually a banker for a clean sheet, but they have lost their groove in recent months and we could be in for an entertaining battle in the Spanish capital.

Simeone's side has reached the Champions League final on two occasions during the Argentinian's reign, but they are as big as 40/1 to get their hands on the trophy this season.

Improving United can leave on a high

The current campaign will have dragged on for both Atletico and United, with neither side able to live up to the hype with just three months of the season remaining.

United started the campaign under the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but with things not going to plan, the Red Devils board decided to bring in Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season in November.

The German has had to bide his time at Old Trafford, with murmurs of discontent in the dressing room. However, the experienced coach believes he is getting the best out of his players, with Sunday's 4-2 success over Leeds United part of their development.

On Sunday, the Red Devils' character was questioned at a soaked Elland Road, but they showed no signs of cracking, even though their rivals from across the Pennines threw everything at them in the second half.

Rangnick's side rolled with the punches and they extended their unbeaten run to four matches, which suggests they are learning their lessons after their FA Cup exit at the hands of Middlesbrough at the start of the month.

Atleti have won three of their previous five matches in the Spanish top-flight and while Saturday's 3-0 success over Osasuna eased the pressure on Simeone, it could still be a result that is just papering over the cracks.

The Spanish outfit lost four of their previous seven in Madrid, an unthinkable record just a few seasons ago and Rangnick's men are 8/15 to win in the double chance market, while an away win is priced at 21/10.

Expect fireworks in the capital

Both Atletico and United have shown signs of erratic form over recent months, but Rangnick's decision to play a 4-2-3-1 formation seems to have worked wonders.

Paul Pogba's influence in midfield has helped their cause, with the Frenchman connecting play with ease and he is 11/2 to score anytime in Madrid.

Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho finally seems to have settled in Manchester, with the former Borussia Dortmund man 14/1 to score the first goal in Wednesday's European tie.

While both teams are capable of finding the back of the net, which is priced at 10/11, it looks like Atleti's indiscipline could be their downfall.

Simeone's side will be doing all they can to make life difficult against United and over 2.5 yellow cards for Atletico at 6/5 catches the eye, especially with the reigning champions having picked up 15 yellows and one red card in their last five league matches.

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Ajax ready to fire in Lisbon

Two outsiders for the Champions League meet in the last-16 on Wednesday as Benfica welcome Ajax to Lisbon.

The Lisbon Eagles finished second in Group E to advance into the knockout stages of the competition, while Ajax breezed their way through Group C as they progressed without dropping a single point.

Wednesday's tie can be classed as a last-chance saloon for Benfica, with Nelson Veríssimo's side off the pace in the Portuguese top-flight, with last weekend's 2-2 draw with Boavista seeing them lose more ground - so they will head into their European tie with a point to prove.

Advancing into the quarter-finals would be the highlight of Benfica's campaign, but at 4/1, it suggests they will struggle against the Dutch champions.

Ajax, 3/4 to win on Wednesday, have enjoyed a near-perfect campaign so far, with the Amsterdammers six points clear at the top of the Eredivisie.

Having only lost two games all season, Ajax will fancy their chances of another victory on the road, with an away win and over 2.5 goals priced at 6/4.

West Ham reject to showcase his skills

West Ham's top-four hopes of late have taken a nosedive and part of that is down to their lack of squad depth.

The Hammers let Sebastien Haller leave for Ajax in January 2021 and he has not looked back, having scored 27 goals in 39 appearances since his exit, and he is the leading scorer in the Champions League this season with ten.

The 27-year-old scored a hat-trick earlier this month in Ajax's 5-0 rout over FC Twente, while he scored in all six Champions League group games, becoming only the second player to do so.

With that in mind, it is a surprise to see Haller 1/1 to score at anytime, while the Ivory Coast international is available at 5/1 to score two or more.

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