Football

Man United players must prove themselves worthy of Champions League elite

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Ralf Rangnick believes Manchester United have no divine right to reach the latter stages of the Champions League and said on Tuesday his players must prove that they belong among Europe’s elite.

United have won only two knockout ties in the competition since reaching the final under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 — against Olympiakos in 2013 and Paris Saint-Germain in 2019.

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They face Atletico Madrid in their round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday and Rangnick has challenged his squad to show they can compete at the highest level.

« We have to be realistic, » Rangnick, who will be without striker Edinson Cavani for the trip to Spain because of an ongoing groin problem, said.

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« There have to be some reasons why it’s [not reaching the semifinals since 2011] not the case in the past and we should not be too interested in the last seven or eight years.

« We have the chance to proceed to the quarterfinals of the Champions League but in order to do that we have to show we are up for that and beat Atletico Madrid and if we do that this will give us another boost, raise the players’ confidence , and we will see what happens then.

« But to say that a club like Manchester United should regularly be in the semifinal of the Champions League; I could recall maybe a few other clubs in Europe where this could also be the case, and some of them even play in the second division.

« In Germany, I can tell you three or four clubs where this is the case. »

United head to Madrid on the back of successive Premier League wins against Brighton and Leeds United. The players have faced questions about their togetherness over the last couple of weeks but Bruno Fernandes insists the celebrations during the 4-2 victory at Elland Road on Sunday show the group are united.

« I was doing an interview now, they asked me about Jadon [Sancho] doing my celebration, I don’t think that is [players] doing something in different ways, » Fernandes said. « I saw the goal of H [Harry Maguire] and I’m seeing Paul [Pogba] running behind him, sliding on his knees, and before him I was slapping his head saying, ‘finally you score with that big head.’

« So I honestly think it is people trying to complain and make stories about this club. We know when someone talks about this club or some player at this club they go around the world with their voice. Is that something they want? If we stick to the plan, stick together, that is the main thing. »

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