Champions League takeaways: David de Gea candid on Man United's elimination to Atletico; Benfica stun Ajax

Darwin Nunez's 77th-minute header pushed underdogs Benfica into the Champions League quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory over Ajax (3-2 on aggregate). The result came as a surprise on a few levels because Benfica, a club that sits third in its domestic league behind Porto and Sporting, never really posed much of a threat in the attack as they managed to outlast the Dutch giants away from home and reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016. 

Behind Odysseas Vlachodimos, Benfica were able to shut out Ajax for the first time since November. Jan Vertongen and Nicolas Otamendi were able to mark Sebastien Haller out of the match, effectively removing Ajax's bite. Haller only had 38 touches as Ajax dominated possession having the ball for almost 70 percent of the match.

Benfica showed a defensive masterclass, containing Ajax and having them shoot from where they wanted them to. Out of Ajax's 16 shots, only two found the target for an accumulated xG of 1.21. Before Benfica scored in the 77th minute, Ajax were getting a shot off every five minutes of the match. But after, Ajax only had two shots for the final 23 minutes and neither were on target.

Another person who knows a thing or two about defense is Diego Simeone, who had his Atletico Madrid side keep a clean sheet when it mattered in a 1-0 win over Manchester United (2-1 on aggregate) at Old Trafford. Diogo Dalot lost Renan Lodi in the box and Antoine Griezmann's cross was able to easily find him as he scored the game's only goal in the 41st minute. From there, Atletico went to work.

United forced good chances early as Anthony Elanga had a few headers to test Jan Oblak, but he had a great match stopping all five shots to come his way and then some. After the half, Ralf Ragnick tried to make wholesale changes by taking out Elanga, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes to introduce Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford, but that didn't do much to change United's fortunes. 

Raphel Varane had the best chance of the second half as his header forced a fingertip save out of Oblak, but again, it wasn't enough. Late into the game, United got so desperate for a winner that Rangnick subbed out Harry Maguire for Juan Mata to make his sixth appearance of the season in all competitions while chasing a winner. Succumbing to a vintage Atletico victory, all that the Old Trafford faithful could do is throw trash from the stands at Simeone not knowing where to direct their frustrations. 

Craving even more coverage of the world's game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.

De Gea: This is 'not new' for Manchester United

Following United's loss, de Gea was candid about the state of the club as he told CBS Sports pitch-side reporter and legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel that Tuesday's effort wasn't up to par.

"The players are the ones who are on the pitch, the ones who want to score the goals," de Gea continued, "but maybe it's not a new situation for us as it's not just this year -- it's many, many years. In certain situations, we're not good enough."

De Gea is absolutely right because it's not like this is uncharted territory these days for Manchester United, a club that has not lifted a Champions League trophy since 2008 and has not had any taste of European success since its 2017 Europa League title under Jose Mourinho. It's been a constant issue since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and no manager has been able to pull the team out of things no matter how much money is spent. 

"Probably have the right ideas, know what we want," de Gea said when asked about what he'd want to see from new leadership. "[Do] we want to be a successful team and try to fight for trophies or do we just want to fight for top four and get out of the Champions League in this stage? We have to be very clear and do much better things than what we are doing.

"It's going to be very difficult," the Spanish shot-stopper said about the team's outlook for the rest of the season. "The team at the moment is a bit down, of course, it was a tough night. Very tough. But we still have nine games to play, so we have to give everything every single game to try to win and be in the top four."

End of an era for Ajax?

With Erik ten Hag linked to Manchester United, Andre Onana heading to Inter Milan in the summer and offers likely coming for Ryan Gravenberch, Jurrien Timber and others, it feels like another summer of rebuilding ahead for Ajax. They're accustomed to this -- after all, Ajax's 2019 semifinal appearance feels like a ages ago. It's hard to rip up a squad year after year and compete at the highest levels. There isn't much that Ajax can do to combat this as there's a limit to how long teams outside the big five European League can keep their rising stars.

As Ajax do the best they can with limited resources, losses like Tuesday's stings a little more because it speeds up the timeframe of when players will leave. Ten Hag has been the constant during these years managing Ajax since 2017 so his exit will truly usher in a new era when -- not if -- it happens.

Notable player ratings

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid: A professional job in midfield, Herrera had 10 recoveries and won nine duels while also ticking possession back over. While he's on his way out in the summer, it's clear that Herrera wants to go out on top in a disappointing season. Rating: 7

Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid: Someone who embodies everything that Atletico does, Griezmann won four tackles and had eight recoveries while chipping in an assist and creating two chances. On a game where attack was at a premium, he brought it all. Rating: 9

Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United: Another game where Fernandes and Ronaldo failed to coexist. Creating only two chances and bringing almost nothing defensively, Fernandes was a liability for Manchester United which is why he was replaced by Paul Pogba in the second half. Rating: 4

Diogo Dalot, Manchester United: While he was fine going forward, losing Lodi cost United the game. Neither Dalot or Aaron Wan-Bissaka are good enough to be the fulltime right back if United want to play this style, which leaves questions ahead this summer. Rating: 6

Benfica defenders: Wow, just wow. Ten clearances for Jan Vertonghen, seven recoveries for Gilberto, five aerials for Nicolas Otamendi. Pick a defensive stat and Benfica excelled at it in a true team defensive effort. Rating: 10

Darwin Nunez, Benfica: Didn't get to touch the ball much, but he was ready when it mattered to score the winner which shows impressive focus for the striker. Rating: 8

Dusan Tadic, Ajax: Created five chances but also was Ajax's worst passer in the attacking third completing 69 percent of his passes. Benfica exploited Tadic during the game using his playstyle to their advantage and he didn't adjust. Rating: 5

Edson Alveraz, Ajax: A good reason why Benfica couldn't get much going on the attacking end, Alvarez won five tackles and had four interceptions in a good showing to anchor the Ajax midfield. Rating: 8

Live updates
(30)
See New Posts
Pinned

And that's it for Benfica!

A stunning away win versus Ajax taking advantage of their one big chance of the match. Ajax are out.

March 15, 2022, 10:01 PM
Pinned

Atletico are through 1-0!

Manchester United weren't able to get the job done as they had chances during the match but it's Diego Simeone's men who advance following a great performance from Oblak in net.

March 15, 2022, 9:55 PM
Pinned

United and Ajax search for equalizers

Will they find them as time is running out in each match or will Atletico and Benfica advance?

March 15, 2022, 9:50 PM
Pinned

There it is for Benfica!

A cross to Nunez and he didn't miss! Beating Timber in the box, Benfica had created nothing before this goal but it won't matter as now they lead!

March 15, 2022, 9:40 PM
Pinned

Oblak is a man inspired

A double save stopping Varane's header and keeping the ensuing cross from finding a United body, we're seeing a vintage Obalk on a European night.

March 15, 2022, 9:37 PM
Pinned

Yarmechuck is in for Benfica

Everton makes way as the hero of leg one comes into the match to try to change the tide.

March 15, 2022, 9:34 PM
Pinned

Varane earns a free kick after taking a whack from Herrera 

Telles takes the kick but it makes it's way to Oblak who calls for a foul that he was cleated but it seems like making a bit much of things. Cavani is getting ready as United still chases an equalizer.

March 15, 2022, 9:33 PM
Pinned

Ajax bungle another chance!

Antony got the ball over to Haller but ultimately when it got to Gravenberch he couldn't get a shot off and went down in the box. Ajax may want to shed perfection for just peppering the keeper with shots sooner than later.

March 15, 2022, 9:28 PM
Pinned

Jadon Sancho has a chance but nothing doing

It's another day in which Sancho seems like United's most dangerous attacker but he has yet to make them count with no shots on target so far.

March 15, 2022, 9:20 PM
Pinned

Benfica can't get a foot to the ball

Only one shot, none on target for the Eagles. Not sure if they're trying to survive to extra time but bunkering against an Ajax side who are creating chances seems like it will come back to bite them.

March 15, 2022, 9:19 PM
Pinned

Gilberto takes a hit for Benfica but will continue

The second half is beginning much as the first ended but Ajax seems to be moving the ball too quickly for their own good.

March 15, 2022, 9:12 PM
Pinned

Manchester United are back out and the team is showing some urgency

Already on the ball, they're trying to exploit Atletico's defensive issues but United has yet to find a way so far. If this wastefulness continues expect changes to come before long.

March 15, 2022, 9:07 PM
Pinned

Bruno Fernandes lets one rip from range but Oblak is there

He put the shot on target and the ensuing corner found Varane's head but Manchester United will go into the half behind 1-0. Ralf Rangnick will need to look for a way back into this.

March 15, 2022, 8:49 PM
Pinned

Out of nowhere! Lodi puts Atletico ahead!

Talk about against the run of play, After Elanga was dispossessed, Griezmann crosses the ball to Lodi for the opener after he lost Diogo Dalot in the box. Manchester United will need to get one back now as this came at a critical time before the half. 

March 15, 2022, 8:44 PM
Pinned

Ajax needs to be more clinical

Eight shots and 68 percent possession in the early going but they've yet to get an opener with only two shots on target. Everything is going through Tadic but no one else on Ajax wants to match his energy as Haller has been isolated with only eight touches.

March 15, 2022, 8:40 PM
Pinned

Is that a goal?

Felix has the ball in the net but it's another offsides call in the match! This is quite a watch as Atletico finally gets a breakthrough in the final third. They've struggled with their passing accuracy but it hasn't stopped them from creating chances.

March 15, 2022, 8:38 PM
Pinned

Manchester United have a penalty shout

Gimenez takes the ball from Bruno Fernandes and it goes to a review but the tackle is determined to be a clean one. It's still all Manchester United but the longer that they go without an opener, the more that the advantage shifts to Atletico.

March 15, 2022, 8:29 PM
Pinned

Ajax have space and possession but no opener yet

15 minutes in, Antony and Alverez have the chances for Ajax but they haven't made it count yet. If feels like an opener is coming though.

March 15, 2022, 8:23 PM
Pinned

BIG chance for Manchester United!

Jan Oblak stands tall as Anthony Elanga has a close range effort. United are pushing early but have yet to take advantage of it yet.

March 15, 2022, 8:18 PM
Pinned

Both games are end to end stuff 

United and Atletico have had their chances while Benfica are also pushing the pace, it seems like there's an exciting finish coming!

March 15, 2022, 8:08 PM
Pinned

Anthony Elanga is almost in on goal!

He fouled Oblak in the build up but it was a good chance for United.

March 15, 2022, 8:05 PM
Pinned

And we're underway in both matches!

Stay tuned for what should be an exciting slate!

March 15, 2022, 8:00 PM
Pinned

They also have their full preview of all the matches

March 15, 2022, 7:41 PM
Pinned

¡Que Golazo previews Ajax vs. Benfica!

March 15, 2022, 7:39 PM
Pinned

Ajax vs. Benfica lineups

Ajax

Starters: Andre Onana, Noussair Mazaroui, Jurrien Timber, Lisandro Martinez, Daily Blind, Ryan Gravenberch, Edson Alvarez, Steven Berghuis, Antony, Sebastien Haller, Dusan Tadic

Reserves: Perr Schuurs, Davy Klaassen, Danilo, Devyne Rensch, Brian Brobbey, Zajaria Labyad, Mohammed Judus, Kenneth Taylor, Mohamed Daramy, Nicolas Tagliafico, Przemyslaw Tyton, Charlie Steford

Benfica

Starters: Odysseas Vlachodimos, Alex Grimaldo, Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Otamendi, Gilberto, Everton Silva, Adel Taarabt, Julian Weigl, Rafa Silva, Darwin Nunez, Goncalo Ramos

Reserves: Soualiho Meite, Roman Yaremchuk, Diogo Goncalves, Joao Mario, Valentino Lazaro, Nemanja Radonjic, Gil Dias, Andre Almeida, Henrique Araujo, Helton Leite, Morato

March 15, 2022, 7:36 PM
Pinned

Manchester United vs. Atletico Madrid lineups:

Manchester United lineup

Starters: David De Gea, Diogo Dalot, Raphel Varane, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles, Scott McTominay, Fred, Anthony Elanga, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo

Reserves: Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Tom Heaton, Dean Henderson, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Nemanja Matic

Atletico Madrid lineup

Starters: Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann, Rodrigo de Paul, Koke, Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Reinildo Mandava, Jesus Gimenez, Stefan Savic

Reserves:  Benjamin Lecomte, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, Filipe, Mario Hermoso, Javi Serrano, Alberto Moreno, Christian Gomez Vela, Carlos Martin, Fran Conzalez, Ibrahim Camara

March 15, 2022, 7:21 PM
Pinned

Brain Brobbey also thinks that Ajax's home field advantage will help see them through

Jonathan Johnson has more from Brobbey ahead of their tie with Benfica.

"Benfica are a very tough opponent, but they were at home first," Brobbey told CBS Sports exclusively ahead of his return to fitness. "We are at home in front of a full stadium for the second which will be tough for them. We have a very good group. Everybody has their own qualities, and we have a great coach as well as his staff. It is good to have some experienced players. They push us young guys to be at their level and expect a lot of us."

March 15, 2022, 7:09 PM
Pinned

Benge also has his bold predictions for the last few matches and sees doom in United's future 

He has Atletico opening the door due to their defensive struggles but United not being able to take advantage saying

"there is still a lot of work to be done to finetune a defense that looks like it might leave the door open for Manchester United. Indeed, Ralf Rangnick's side are the only one of Los Rojiblancos' last five opponents not to reach double figures for shots, all in games where they have had significantly less possession to create their chances. In expected goals (xG) terms, Cadiz had comfortably the better opportunities, Celta Vigo had slightly the better of the game, and even a struggling Real Betis side had a decent shot profile." 

March 15, 2022, 7:06 PM
Pinned

Going by staff predictions, anything could happen in Manchester United vs. Atletico Madrid

James Benge is watching the matchup between Jadon Sancho and Marcos Llorente

"Since the turn of the year, Sancho has found by far the best form of his Manchester United career, largely by playing on a left flank where his team had been reasonably well stocked in the first place. Wherever he starts, the England international is in first name on the team-sheet territory, delivering end product on a consistent basis. Whether it is Llorente at wing back or another option, Diego Simeone will be hard pressed to quell Sancho." 

March 15, 2022, 6:53 PM