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Cristiano Ronaldo makes emotional return to Old Trafford for what promises to be a cracking Champions League second leg encounter.
Manchester United must not obsess themselves with trying to stop Cristiano Ronaldo when he returns to Old Trafford with Real Madrid on Tuesday, manager Alex Ferguson has warned.
Ronaldo spent six seasons with United after signing from Sporting Lisbon, scoring 117 goals in 290 games and blossoming into one of the finest players in world football before leaving to join Madrid in the 2009 close-season.
Since arriving in the Spanish capital he has become even more prolific, finding the net 185 times in 184 games, but Ferguson says the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie will not be decided by Ronaldo alone.
Asked if he was concerned about Madrid’s number seven drawing inspiration from the reception he receives at Old Trafford, the United manager quipped: “The biggest concern is if he turns up!
“You know what to expect against a team with Ronaldo in and we have to try and curtail that. It won’t be easy because he does it every week. It’s not an accident with the lad.
“The experience Rafael (da Silva) had in the first leg will hopefully help him because he’ll be given the same task again.
“We can’t go in worrying about the damage he might do to us, because we might forget about the damage we can do ourselves.”
It is 10 years since another famous Ronaldo, the great Brazilian striker, came to Old Trafford with Real Madrid and produced a performance that condemned United to elimination from the Champions League.
The two-time Ballon d’Or-winner netted a hat-trick in a 4-3 second-leg defeat that took Madrid into the semi-finals in 2003 and was afforded the rare privilege of a standing ovation from United’s fans.
Cristiano Ronaldo will hope for a similar outcome on Tuesday evening, but Ferguson says the Portuguese forward is a very different player to his Brazilian namesake.
“The older one, the fatter one, he was at his peak at that time as a centre-forward,” Ferguson said.
“(Cristiano) Ronaldo is a supreme athlete, an unbelievable athlete. He never misses a game, has a fantastic physique, pace, great feet, he’s great in the air. They’re different types of player.
“Our big worry isn’t what happened 10 years ago, but what’s going to happen tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Ronaldo admits he is excited about returning to his former stomping ground.
Writing on his Instagram account, he said: “I’m looking forward to return to Old Trafford. I’ve so many good memories there. It will be an exciting game and our goal is to win.”
Madrid manager Jose Mourinho praised his countryman for his achievements in English football, which included victory with United in the Champions League and individual success in the Ballon d’Or voting in 2008.
“Any accolades he gets are more than deserved and the reception he gets tomorrow night will be well deserved,” he said.
“I was here when he was playing in the Premier League and I’m aware of how well he did and what an impact he had at the club.”
Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso dismissed suggestions his team-mate might allow himself to be over-awed by the occasion.
“Of course he’s looking forward to playing United,” said the former Liverpool man.
“Before the game he will have a great reception, but once kick-off comes, all the feelings will be forgotten and he’ll just be thinking about giving the best for our team.”
Ryan Giggs is poised to reach yet another milestone in his extraordinary career on Tuesday when he is expected to make his 1,000th appearance in senior football.
The indefatigable Welshman took his tally of appearances to 999 last month with a goal-scoring turn in a 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers that helped Manchester United stay clear at the top of the Premier League.
Manager Alex Ferguson rested the player against Norwich on Saturday, which United won 4-0, extending the odds on Giggs bagging a 13th league title which would solidify his place as the most decorated footballer in the English game.
No man can compete with his 12 league titles and he has also amassed two Champions League trophies, four FA Cup titles and three League Cup winners’ medals, as well as a clutch of other prizes, in his 22-year Old Trafford career.
A willowy winger when he blazed onto the scene in the early-1990s, Giggs has refined his game in recent years and now operates more often than not as an elegant midfield playmaker.
The Welshman will turn 40 in November but last week he penned a new one-year contract which will keep him at Old Trafford until June 2014.
Team-mate Rafael da Silva says the United players continue to be astonished by Giggs’s ability, as he gears up for the Champions League showdown against Real Madrid.
“He is an unbelievable player,” Rafael said.
“Every game you see him, he works hard, scores, makes assists. It is getting boring. He is just such a good player.
“He is the same in training; he just loves to play the game. He is one of the top players that I have played with. He gives us experience, confidence, and when you are feeling bad he comes and helps you, especially young players.”
Giggs has demonstrated superb form in recent weeks, after a difficult early-season spell that included a galling half-time substitution in a 3-2 loss at home to Tottenham Hotspur in September.
He has scored three goals in his last five appearances in all competitions.
His opening goal in the 4-1 win over Fulham in the FA Cup came a staggering 20 years after his first goal in the competition, while he has now scored in a remarkable 23 consecutive top-flight seasons.
Although no longer able to race through the gears as he did in his younger days, Giggs still possesses an eye for the spectacular and came close to scoring with an exquisite chip that hit the crossbar against QPR.
United manager Alex Ferguson ran out of original ways to describe his protege long ago.
“What can I say about Ryan that hasn’t already been said? He is a marvellous player and an exceptional human being. Ryan is an example to us all, the way in which he has, and continues to, look after himself,” said the United boss.
“He has fantastic energy for the game and it is wonderful to see. Ryan seems to reach a new milestone every week and to think that he now has 23 unbroken years of league goals behind him is truly amazing in the modern-day game.
“His form this year shows his ability and his enjoyment of the game are as strong as ever and I am absolutely delighted that he has signed a new contract.”
As a youngster, Giggs was dogged by hamstring injuries, but he attributes his longevity to the discovery of yoga techniques that have helped him steer clear of the treatment tables in recent years.
“The yoga has definitely helped me,” he told La Gazetta dello Sport last year. “It helps me train every day because it gives me the flexibility and the strength not only to play the game, but to train as well.
“You have to change the way of thinking. I was a quick player when I was younger, now I am not so quick.
“You use your experience, your intelligence on the pitch, to adapt your game and change your game, as I have done.”
His 999 appearances include 931 games for United, 64 for Wales and four for the British Olympic men’s football team at last year’s London Games.
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho says pre-game form can be discounted ahead of his side’s mouth-watering Champions League showdown with Manchester United on Tuesday.
Both teams approach the concluding leg of the last 16 tie at Old Trafford buoyed by excellent recent results.
United have established a huge lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and are also in the FA Cup quarter-finals, while Madrid go into the game following impressive back-to-back wins over old foes Barcelona.
United claimed a precious away goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw in Madrid three weeks ago, but Mourinho says it is impossible to pinpoint the factors that will decide the outcome of the tie.
“They (United) are on a fantastic run, better than ever this season — reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals, winning the Premier (League) already in March. They don’t lose a match in months,” he said.
“We’re also in good form in 2013. But that’s the $1 million question: who knows what is going to make the difference?
“Nobody knows, and tomorrow (Tuesday) the world will stop to watch this tie. It looks like a final. Let’s see which teams arrive at Wembley (for the final), but I doubt the expectation can be bigger than for this one.”
Mourinho has included Iker Casillas in his squad despite the Spain goalkeeper being sidelined with a broken hand, but the Madrid manager confirmed that he would not be able to feature.
“Everyone’s fit and ready to play, with the exception of Iker Casillas,” he said at Monday’s pre-game press conference.
Mourinho rose to prominence in England after leading Porto to a shock victory over United in the Champions League in 2004, celebrating the decisive goal at Old Trafford with an impromptu sprint down the touchline.
The former Chelsea manager says that although he is now more adept at controlling his emotions, the feelings provoked by what happens on the pitch remain as intense.
“That match was my first season playing Champions League football,” he said.
“Now I have more than 100 matches and I think I can control my emotions in a different way. If I lose tomorrow, I don’t cry, and if I win, I don’t run 100 metres, for sure.
“But the happiness and the sadness — sleep well, sleep not so well, laugh a lot in the plane, or pretend I’m sleeping — that’s the same story.”
Mourinho, 50, has been tipped as a potential successor to 71-year-old United manager Alex Ferguson and admits he hopes to still be managing when he reaches the Scot’s age.
“I can imagine, yes. Because I think this is the kind of job where, the older you are, the better you are, because it’s a job where the experiences that you live and the thoughts you give to those experiences make you better,” he said.
“So yes, I imagine, and I would love that God gives me health so I can do it. And Sir Alex is unique. I don’t have any words that can add to what everybody thinks about him and the respect he deserves from everyone.”
Ferguson, meanwhile, was evasive when asked to assess Mourinho’s merits as a candidate to succeed him.
“I get this question all the time and it’s a question I can’t answer because I’m still the manager here, and I hope I’m the manager tomorrow,” he said at his own press conference.
“It’s impossible to discuss who’s going to replace me because there’s no time factor in it.”
Phil Jones is out of Manchester’s United’s Champions League last-16 second leg tie against Real Madrid.
The 21-year-old defender played a key role in the first leg draw at the Bernabeu but has an ankle injury.
Ryan Giggs missed Saturday’s win over Norwich but Ferguson said the Welshman would play a part against Real.
Midfielder Giggs, 39, will reach 1,000 career games if he plays against the Spanish champions.
“He will be involved at some point, whether starting or on the bench I am not sure yet. His experience in these occasions will be vital to us,” said Ferguson.
Robin van Persie, Patrice Evra and Danny Welbeck all sustained minor knocks in the 4-0 win against Norwich but all three trained ahead of Real Madrid’s visit.
Rio Ferdinand also appeared after recovering from the flu at the weekend.
The only player unavailable to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is captain Iker Casillas. The goalkeeper trained with the Spanish champions at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium in the build-up to Tuesday’s game but is not fit enough to feature after being out since January with a fractured left hand.
The two teams have played four ties in the competition, with the winner going on to lift the trophy on three of the four occasions
Manchester United have gone on to win nine of the 12 European ties in which they recorded a first-leg away draw
Real Madrid have only advanced once in the Champions League after recording a home draw in the first leg, but that was against Manchester United in 1999-2000
Man United 22/1 to win 3-2: Man United vs Real Madrid Betting