Forget the Ronaldo Show, this isn’t just a homecoming.
From all the hype, aided by the man himself, you could be forgiven for thinking that this particular Manchester Utd versus Juventus tie is all about one man. Cristiano Ronaldo. As was the case when he returned to Old Trafford in 2013 with Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho, much of the attention is on the Portuguese superstar. That night he was rightfully given the full respect of everyone in the stadium despite scoring against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and ultimately, with the help of poor refereeing, helping to put United out of Europe, denying Fergie his last shot at a third European Cup title.
This time it should be different, though. In the following years, if you’ve read (and believed) any newspapers and media outlets over the last three or four summers, you’ll know that Cristiano has been linked with moves back to Old Trafford. Much of that is down to his pandering to the club, but, as has become quite clear each time, the end goal has ultimately been to secure himself a better deal at Real Madrid.
That shouldn’t detract from the great work he did for Manchester United. Far from it. He was magnificent for a crucial period in United’s rejuvenation from 2006 onwards and that enormous contribution should never be forgotten, but the fact remains that he has quite knowingly used the club as a pawn in recent years, well aware that the vast majority of Reds would clamour and go mad at the possibility of a return.
So, for that reason, coupled with the fact that he no longer plays for Manchester United and probably never will again, we should be drawing a line under the Ronaldo story and see him purely as an opponent on Tuesday night. Sure, the applause should be there beforehand, but after that, it has to be business as usual because Manchester United need a result from this game – they don’t need to be sucked into the Cristiano Ronaldo circus.
And on that note, despite preaching that this game is not about Cristiano Ronaldo, then dedicating four paragraphs to the very same man, we’ll move on to a United side that is slowly showing signs of improvement.
The optimism levels were incredibly low for most Reds going into the Chelsea game on Saturday. Our record at Stamford Bridge had been incredibly poor since 2004 and performances so far this season did nothing to bolster the faith that Jose Mourinho’s side could come away with anything. But, as seems to be the trend, when this side becomes the underdog, or goes behind and is forced to show impetus, they tend to show their class.
We’re not going to spend too long proposing a line-up for this game on the back of that impressive, yet-ultimately-frustrating result on Saturday. According to Mourinho, the same squad, bar an injured Alexis Sanchez, appears to be what the United boss has available to him and so the situation really lends itself to making no changes.
As expected, Juan Mata started because he earned his spot looking creative and dangerous against Newcastle. He was influential again down at Stamford Bridge so there is both no real need for change, nor is there a better option available. Playing him behind Lukaku with the pace of Rashford and Martial either side played to all of the frontline’s strengths and since we’re the home side at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, we should do the same again if we’re to get the positive result we surely need to have hope of progressing from the group.
However, playing Mata as a traditional number ten involves using Pogba in a midfield pair but it is surely a sacrifice worth making if it gets the team playing and counter attacking as it did in the latter stages against Chelsea. The simple fact is that playing Mata with the pacey youngsters on the flanks gets United forward, and when United are getting forward with freedom, that’s when Paul Pogba comes into his own. The only issue is that it asks a lot of the Frenchman in terms of mixing his duties. That being said, he showed that he can do both sides of the game very well on the biggest stage in the World Cup. Tuesday night in the Champions League is another opportunity to prove that against his old club.
Defensively, the Reds looked relatively sound against Chelsea, aside from a couple of pivotal set pieces of which the errors made weren’t necessarily the fault of the back four. Antonio Valencia was spotted training ahead of the game on Monday afternoon but it is still unlikely that he will return and take Ashley Young’s place. It’s more likely that Young will retain his place and be joined again by Chris Smalling , Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw with David de Gea obviously holding the fort.
The result against Chelsea will no doubt have done this United side the world of good in terms of confidence going into the Juventus game, but make no mistake, this is another step up entirely. With the addition of Ronaldo, the Turin giants have to be regarded as one of the tournament favourites but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a result to be had here. As we’ve seen in the last couple of games, this United is side better when it’s up against it with a point to prove and there’s every chance that this will be the case again on Tuesday night. On their day, Mourinho’s forward line is a match for any team so if his defence can hold firm, there’s a chance of nicking this one by the odd goal.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Juventus