Champions League: Edinson Cavani out of Manchester United squad to face Atletico Madrid

Edinson Cavani will not travel to Spain for Manchester United’s Champions League round of 16 first leg tie with Atletico Madrid on CBS and Paramount+, Ralf Rangnick has confirmed.

Cavani has missed United’s last three games due to a groin issue and, despite hopes to the contrary, Rangnick has confirmed that the 35 year old will not be able to travel to Madrid. No timescale has been set for what would appear to be a nagging injury, one that is limiting the veteran striker from being able to sprint at full intensity.

“Edi will not be part of the trip,” said United’s interim manager. “He has not trained the past weeks and will not be part of the group.”

Asked when Cavani might be available, Rangnick added, “He has problems with his groin and as long as he does not feel able to fully sprint, it does not make sense to train him and to force him back into training. I think he’s got enough experience to know by himself if he’s fully available again.”

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Rangnick would certainly rather be able to call on Cavani than not though it is fair to question whether the Uruguay international would have been in United’s starting XI even if he were at full fitness. He provides significant value to the attack that others might not, particularly his work without the ball. Even in his advanced years he is one of the most diligent pressing forwards at Old Trafford and ranks highly for both successful pressures and interceptions.

That has often been set in stark contrast with Cristiano Ronaldo, the other ageing forward on the United roster. As he has reached 37 his game has been honed increasingly towards contributions in the attacking third; although he has at times shown a willingness to chase after the ball the Atletico Madrid defense will certainly be expecting a quieter evening when they have the ball at their feet.

Had he been available the argument for starting Cavani might have boiled down to the reality that Ronaldo, the pared down offensive force, has not particularly flourished in front of goal of late. Since the start of 2022 the 37 year old has scored just once in all competitions and is taking roughly twice as long, on average, to score a goal this season in the Premier League than he did in each of his last two years in Serie A.

Equally if there is one place where that decline does not seem as apparent it is in the Champions League, the stage Ronaldo relishes most of all. Even when he is not in the best form there is something about this particular player that makes teammates trust him, as Bruno Fernandes articulated in his pre-match press conference: “[Ronaldo] has that smell for the goal. Having players that can decide games in any moment is helpful.”

Ronaldo’s six goals in the group stage carried United to a string of improbable results that saw them beat Villarreal and Atalanta to top Group F. The competition’s record scorer also seems to relish playing Atletico Madrid, in 35 meetings with Los Rojiblancos he has 25 goals and nine assists. 

He has already met them at this stage of the competition before in memorable fashion, scoring a hat trick in 2019 to turn a two goal first leg deficit into progress for Juventus, the only Champions League knockout tie they won in his time at the club.

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