Manchester United are preparing to face Atalanta in the first Champions League back after the international break.
For the most part, Atalanta’s squad are a dangerously unknown quantity as far as English football is concerned, with Gian Piero Gasperini’s side made up of players who have rarely played any Premier League football, Chelsea loanee Davide Zappacosta aside.
One of the other exceptions is Dutch midfielder Maarten de Roon, who featured in the Premier League for Middlesbrough.
De Roon last played against Manchester United in 2017 and was on the losing side as Boro were beaten 3-1, with Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard scoring the goals.
But after the game, United boss at the time paid special attention to De Roon in his post-match interview.
Mourinho was quoted by The Sun: “This kid De Roon is phenomenal, his work-rate is phenomenal, they’re solid and they play direct.
“We had to fight it, and I have to admit, it was hard for us.”
Inevitable transfer links followed, with The Mirror claiming Mourinho was plotting a £10 million move for the central midfielder.
Made a name for himself in Italy
Middlesbrough could not hold onto De Roon and the links to United amounted to nothing. The midfielder re-signed for Atalanta, the side he left in 2016, and has stayed there ever since.
De Roon has become a mainstay in the side which finished third in Serie A last season above Ronaldo’s Juventus, and also reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2019/20.
His ‘phenomenal work rate’ is going to be a challenge for Manchester United to contend with once again in the upcoming Champions League ties.
The difference this time is De Roon is surrounded by technically far superior players to the Boro side he played in during the 2016/17 season.
De Roon, 30, is averaging three tackles per game in Serie A and 1.7 interceptions.
He is part of a well drilled Atalanta side which play with a combination of flair and tenacity, and United cannot afford to let him run the game.
De Roon will no doubt relish the chance to go up against United again, a side he was beaten by twice in 2016/17. The Red Devils will be looking to maintain the midfielder’s losing record against them in a pivotal Champions League tie at Old Trafford on October 20.
Manchester United’s next 10 fixtures after the international break
- Leicester City (A)
Saturday October 16, 3pm, Premier League
- Atalanta (H)
Wednesday October 20, 8pm, Champions League
- Liverpool (H)
Sunday October 24, 4.30pm, Premier League
- Tottenham (A)
Saturday October 30, 5.30pm, Premier League
- Atalanta (A)
Tuesday November 2, 8pm, Champions League
- Manchester City (H)
Saturday November 6, 12.30pm, Premier League
- Watford (A)
Saturday November 20, 3pm, Premier League
- Villarreal (A)
Tuesday November 23, 5.45pm, Champions League
- Chelsea (A)
Sunday November 28, 4.30pm, Premier League
- Arsenal (H)
Tuesday November 30, 8pm, Premier League
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