Manchester United v Real Madrid: our players must not fear Cristiano Ronaldo, says Sir Alex Ferguson
As he pondered the magnitude of the 90 minutes that lay ahead between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, Jose Mourinho resembled a James Bond villain preparing to inflict devastation on a fearless opponent.
“The world will stop to watch this tie,” insisted the Real Madrid manager. “It doesn’t look a tie. It looks a final. I doubt the expectation can be bigger than this one. United are in a fantastic run, we are also in good form, so the $1 million question is ‘what will make the difference?’ Nobody knows.”
It may only be a Champions League second-round tie between two clubs who share 12 European Cups between them, but the anticipation ahead of United’s clash with Real, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s first return to Old Trafford, was enough to prompt Sir Bobby Charlton to watch Sir Alex Ferguson’s players train at Carrington on Monday morning. Even Joel and Avram Glazer, the United owners whose visits to Manchester from Florida tend to last hours rather than days, were sufficiently enthused by this fixture to join Charlton in overseeing training.
It is an encounter that is coated in stardust, with all eyes on Ronaldo, whose stunning first-leg header cancelled out Danny Welbeck’s opener to earn Real a draw. Yet the former United forward’s presence also threatens to pose a dangerous distraction which Ferguson fears could distract his team from the other talents in Mourinho’s squad.
“My biggest concern is if he [Ronaldo] turns up because you expect problems,” Ferguson said. “We have to try and curtail that as best as we can. It won’t be easy, because he does it every week, it’s no accident with the lad, but he isn’t something we should fear.
“If we go in worried about the damage Cristiano can do, we forget what we can do ourselves.”
Phil Jones’s failure to convince Ferguson of his fitness following an ankle injury means the England defender is unlikely to be handed the mine-sweeping role he performed so well in the Bernabéu.
Jones has returned to training and could yet make a surprise appearance, but the Brazilian defender Rafael, who was tormented by Real’s marauding forwards three weeks ago, is most likely to be handed the job of shackling Ronaldo.
“Hopefully the experience young Rafael had in the first-half in the first leg will help him,” Ferguson said. “He will be given the same task, but I don’t think it’s one he should fear.
“Jones’s performance over there was excellent so he is a miss, but we can’t deem it as something that we can’t manage. We have options and I hope we get that right..
“Real are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe, that showed itself last week at the Nou Camp. They were absolutely stunning on the counter attack, so we have to find a way of coping with that, but also having our own threat in an attacking sense.
“We know our strengths and how we want to play. We know how to go about these games and hopefully it helps us.”
Ryan Giggs is expected to be deployed alongside Michael Carrick at the heart of United’s midfield ahead of a back four with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic restored as central defensive partners.
Wayne Rooney’s ongoing battle for full fitness following his recent bout of sinusitis remains a concern, despite his impressive 90 minutes against Norwich at the weekend, but the 27-year-old trained fully on Monday to bolster his claims for a supporting role behind Robin van Persie.
Despite United’s unbeaten run in 2013, Mourinho insists that Real will emerge at Old Trafford this evening with similar confidence, having lost just once since the turn of the year.
In 15 Champions League away games under the former Chelsea manager, Real have never failed to score — they have hit 27 goals in those games — and Mourinho claims that his players will not be suffering an inferiority complex on Tuesday night.
“We come here after two victories against Barcelona, but if we came here after two defeats, our feeling would be the same,” Mourinho said. “They have been in different competitions, with different feelings, but of course it is better to come here in a period when the players are happy.
“Beating a rival twice, the feelings are fine, but I don’t think it has an influence on the match. The emotion is high .”
On Real’s last visit to Old Trafford, in 2003, a 4-3 victory for the home side was not enough for United to qualify, with a hat-trick by the Brazilian Ronaldo securing a 6-5 aggregate win for Vicente del Bosque’s team.
The ‘other’ Ronaldo threatens to deliver a similarly fatal blow to United’s hopes tonight, but Ferguson insists that his players are ready and capable of eliminating Real from the European Cup for the first time since the club’s victorious 1968 campaign.
“I think we must trust the players, as we always do,” Ferguson said. “I trust them and they all trust each other. That’s why they have had continued success over a long, long period.
“The number of photographers at the training ground was an indication of how important the game is for both clubs. As European nights go, they don’t get much bigger. It is an occasion you always want to have and that is the beauty of the Champions League.
“We are talking about two clubs with great history and it’s set up to be potentially a marvellous game. I don’t think it will disappoint either.”