Manchester: As if there wasn’t enough at stake when two of Europe’s biggest teams go at it for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, there are even more reasons for emotions to run high at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
While one of Manchester United’s former stars — Cristiano Ronaldo — returns, the club’s longest-serving player — Ryan Giggs — is expected to hit another milestone.
And then there’s the game itself, with United and Real Madrid level at 1-1 following the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.
“As a European night I don’t think you can get any bigger than this one,” United manager Alex Ferguson said Monday. “Two great clubs, with great histories and it’s set up to be a potentially marvellous game.”
It will be Ronaldo’s first at United since becoming the world’s most expensive player in 2009 by swapping Manchester for Madrid for £80 million.
Despite having seen his star player leave the club, Ferguson had nothing but superlatives for Ronaldo, calling him a “supreme athlete.”
“My biggest concern will be if he turns up,” Ferguson quipped. “What do you expect when you play against a team with Ronaldo in it? You expect problems during the night and we have you to try to curtail that as much as we can, as best we can. It won’t be easy.”
“Early on in the season we were conceding too many goals,” United striker Wayne Rooney, who forged a lethal partnership with Ronaldo before the Portuguese left northwest England in 2009, said.
“We seemed to have coped with that, we’re not conceding and we’re scoring goals so we’re in a great position at the minute. So, hopefully we can continue for Tuesday.”
And United has to be careful it doesn’t get too distracted by Ronaldo to focus on its own game plan.
“If we go in wondering about the damage Cristiano can give us, then we will forget some of the things we can do ourselves,” Ferguson said.
It was Ferguson who helped to turn Ronaldo into one of football’s most lethal attacking forces during six seasons at United.
It remains one Ferguson’s greatest frustrations in a reign stretching back to 1986 that he has only won the European Cup twice, leaving the club with three successes compared with Madrid’s nine. Winning a 10th is the priority for Jose Mourinho to salvage something from a gloomy Spanish league campaign.
Although Real Madrid warmed up for the trip to England by beating Barcelona 2-1 on Saturday, the Catalan team is 13 points ahead in the title race.
Real haven’t been to Old Trafford since 2003 when United won 4-3 but lost 6-5 on aggregate in the quarter finals.
“Manchester is really strong but we’re going to Old Trafford with confidence,” Kaka said. “It’s a traditionally European squad that always goes far in the competitions they play in.”
Real could be boosted at United by the return of captain Iker Casillas, who is part of the 24-man squad despite the goalkeeper being out of action since fracturing his left hand in
January. Spirits are high in the Real camp after last week’s double success over Barcelona, with a place also booked in the Copa Del Rey final by beating the league leaders on Tuesday.
“We are very going through a good streak. We have shown that we are a group and we fight until the end,” centre back Pepe told reporters.
“We have got two important consecutive wins... We are going into the United game at the best time.”