Eyebrows were raised when Diego Simeone claimed Manchester United had the two best midfielders in the world, but the Atletico Madrid boss put his money where his mouth is.
Truth be told, United are lucky to head home on level terms as Atletico should have made their dominance count, especially in the first half.
One issue that has plagued Ralf Rangnick’s men all season is their frailties in the middle of the park but Simeone is of the opinion that it’s as good as any in world football as he hailed midfielders Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba as two of the best.
“They have an incredible midfield,” Simeone said before the game. I am incredibly impressed with the work rate.
“Pogba and McTominay are two of the best midfielders in the world with a great balance.
“The team is much more compact, it’s stronger. They have a solidity at the back, they’re a very physical team with the central defenders and the midfield they’ve got.
“They are really strong and it’s really, really difficult to find vulnerabilities there.
“I always assess the virtues of our rival, but of course, we will try to find a way to try and hurt them, try and find our way to the goal, if you like.”
McTominay missed out through illness but the respect Atletico gave Pogba backed up those comments.
Atletico swarmed the Frenchman throughout the match as Geoffrey Kondogbia man-marked him, shadowing him wherever he went.
It was clear Simeone wanted to mark him out of the game and the game plan was working until a certain point as Pogba was hooked in the second half.
Simeone also called United one of the best teams in the world, but the showing from Rangnick’s men would suggest otherwise.
“We’re facing one of the best teams in the world in the last 14 games if I’m not mistaken,” Simeone added. “They’ve just lost one. With the new manager, Ralf Rangnick, it’s given the team solidity, teamwork, and commitment.
“We can see what Manchester United was always like. They’ve evolved since the new manager arrived, they’re already fourth in the league
“It’s an intense, dynamic team, very brave, with very good forwards, very good footballers overall and who try to make a huge effort to try and unite the huge talents they have in 11 players.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game, as every Champions League game is. But we have a lot of anticipation to play in our stadium in front of our fans and we’re lucky to play the last 16 at home because we couldn’t play that, we couldn’t do that last year.”