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Game to Watch: Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford
by Samuel Charles, March 3rd, 2013 10:08PM

TAGS:  manchester united, real madrid, uefa champions league


[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Two juggernauts with a pair of prominent coaches battle for a quarterfinal birth when Real Madrid visits Old Trafford on Tuesday, and Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester United, home to his greatest achievements, in a mouth-watering second leg (TV: Man. United-Real Madrid, 2:45 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

(TV: Man. United-Real Madrid, 2:45 pm ET, Fox Soccer.)

Cristiano Ronaldo’s spectacular header at the half-hour mark in Madrid three weeks answered Danny Welbeck’s opener ten minutes earlier, the first-leg finished 1-1.

OPPORTUNITY LOST: The English press credited Phil Jones’ marking for Ronaldo’s quiet second half, as he spent most of it away from the left wing, ignoring a golden opportunity.

Rafael at right back got a yellow card just before halftime, but Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho sent his best player everywhere but his best position.

PEAS IN A POD: The only two coaches in the tourney with two European Cups are Alex Ferguson and Mourinho.

Near his 13th EPL title, the 71-year-old Ferguson won’t have many more shots to win a third UCL trophy, while the 50-year-old Mourinho could win his third in three different countries, and La Decima, in one fell swoop if Real Madrid advances and wins at Wembley in May.

SINCE WE LAST MET: United beat the EPL’s last-place team, its 19th-place team, and its 13th-place team. Madrid beat La Liga’s ninth-place team, its bottom dweller, and its best team in Barcelona and at home. Sir Alex saw the Copa del Rey clinic Tuesday in person.

“Madrid were magnificent, absolutely brilliant, they won well.” Ferguson said. “We need to make sure that the counterattack doesn’t kill us.”

Saturday’s Spanish Clasico featured just four starters from the UCL first leg, while Cristiano’s electric cameo secured back-to-back Barca beatings for the first time since 2008. After just having outplayed Leo Messi twice in five days, the Portuguese star posed with Diego Maradona at the Bernabeu..

Dysfunctional all year, Madrid now looks a lot like what it was for most of last season, the world’s best team.

BUILDING BLOCKS. It was 22-year-old David de Gea‘s larcenous acrobatics in Madrid, the city of his birth, that kept United afloat, and United’s future in goal may have to repeat his heroics.

VIDEO: David de Gea ‘s larcenous acrobatics in Madrid

Raphael Varane has speed and instincts, and his 6-foot-3 frame is a load on set pieces. The French U-21 has his coach’s admiration, at 19. "Real Madrid have a top center half for 10 years to come," says Mourinho.

Known for his mercurial talent and big ears, Angel di Maria terrorized United in every which way in the first leg -- his nice cross set up Ronaldo -- and he may be Fergie’s biggest worry.

PRODIGY RETURNS. “He is the most ambitious player I have met, with his hunger and desire to score in every game.” Xabi Alonso told Champions Matchday.

“The fans love him and it will be a great occasion.'” said former United star David Beckham.

Now 28, Cristiano Ronaldo’s magical moments in Manchester include his only Ballon d’Or trophy, FIFA World Player of the Year award and UEFA Champions League title, he also grabbed three EPL crowns and 118 goals in 292 games from 2003 to 2009.

VIDEO: Cristiano Ronaldo’s magical moments in Manchester

THE SKINNY: Manchester United advances with a scoreless tie, 1-1 brings overtime, and two goals by Real Madrid means United must win outright. As long as it ties the game, Madrid’s first goal will put Los Blancos in the driver seat, two goals would require three by the Red Devils, which sounds a bridge too far.

This past week has brought the swagger, and joy, back to Cristiano, set to play one his biggest games ever at a place he calls home, the stars have aligned for a performance of epic proportions.

Madrid’s team, coach and star are simply on fire. Ferguson may rue the fact he didn’t pursue a second away goal in Spain, as Old Trafford itself may need to be his best player.

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