PARIS. – A familiar face returns to Old Trafford tonight for a critical Champions League soccer showdown.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus enter the match as the class of Group H, two points above second place Manchester United. Both sides feel frustrated after unsatisfying draws at the weekend.
Ronaldo will always be fondly remembered at Old Trafford, but as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner rolls back into town this week, this former hero may be the last sight Manchester United want to see.
Ronaldo made his name in Manchester, scoring 118 goals, winning three English Premier League titles and the first of his five Champions Leagues before a then world record move to Real Madrid.
Tonight he returns in the colours of Juventus, eager to let his football do the talking with the cloud of a rape accusation in the United States dating back to just before he made the move to Madrid in 2009 blighting his early days with the Italian giants.
Ronaldo strongly denies the allegation and has been backed by his club, but it remains to be seen if the hero worship afforded to the Portuguese on his last visit to Old Trafford in 2013 is dialed down a little by the United fans.
That night he broke United hearts, none more so than his old mentor Alex Ferguson in what proved to be his last European match in charge with the winning goal in a contentious tie.
“It was an unbelievable night, a very emotional night and what the supporters did for me was massive,” he said of his reception.
Ronaldo, though, has little room for sentiment when it comes to furnishing his own legacy. Five years ago, his mission to was to land Madrid’s long-awaited 10th European Cup. It took an extra year, but he eventually did so, as well as an 11th, 12th, and 13th before departing this summer. That is how Ronaldo rolls, and no one is more aware of that than his manager the night he last triumphed in Manchester, and now United boss, Jose Mourinho.
“Cristiano is still a top player. I think he likes to come back here, he did when he was with Real Madrid. But, of course, when he returns with a new team he comes to do a job, for them.”
On Saturday, the Reds blew a golden chance to end Chelsea’s unbeaten run and send shockwaves through the English Premier League.
Antonio Rudiger’s free header gave the hosts an early lead, but an inspired United emerged from the dressing room at half-time and flipped the script behind an Anthony Martial brace.
But, during the lengthy second half stoppage-time, that suspect defence broke down again. Ross Barkley slammed home the equaliser after United failed to clear the ball off a set-piece. What should have been a statement win for Manchester United instead ended in a 2-2 stalemate.
Afterwards, José Mourinho sounded unimpressed with the point: “If you say before the match one point at Stamford Bridge, it’s always a good result because it’s so difficult for teams to win here. But after the game, the way the game was, it’s an awful result for us and a phenomenal result for them.”
United can’t keep digging themselves a first-half hole only to switch on after the break. That might work against Newcastle, but not Chelsea. And certainly not Juventus. Before Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Genoa, Massimiliano Allegri’s side had won all 10 games this season. They’re well clear atop the Italian Serie A table and already look all but certain to make it eight Scudetti in a row. For Juve, though, this season isn’t about domestic honours.
Today: AEK Athens v Bayern München (6:55pm); Young Boys v Valencia (6:55pm); Manchester United v Juventus; Ajax v Benfica; Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City; Roma v CSKA Moskva; Real Madrid v Viktoria Plzen; TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v Olympique Lyonnais.
Tomorrow: PSV v Tottenham Hotspur (6:55pm); Club Brugge v Monaco (6:55pm); Lokomotiv Moskva v Porto; Liverpool v Crvena Zvezda; Galatasaray v Schalke 04; Borussia Dortmund v Atlético Madrid; Paris Saint-Germain v
Napoli; Barcelona v Internazionale.