Man United Has Only One Prayer Before Friday’s Champions League Draw

If Ajax’s and Manchester United’s respective comebacks against Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain last week were impressive, Juventus’ against Atletico Madrid was equally so.

For this Atleti team, moulded in the shape of their determined manager Diego Simeone, is not one that gives away two-goal leads freely.

In many senses, Juve’s task of overturning Los Rojiblancos’ first-leg lead was even greater than the one faced by United’s B team at the Parc des Princes.

PSG’s capacity to crumble on Europe’s greatest stage is well documented but Atletico are made of sterner stuff and, in Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, they possess one of the strongest centre-back partnerships on the continent.

It was just unfortunate for them, then, that they were tasked with shackling the greatest striker this generation – and indeed any other – has witnessed.

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at the Juventus Stadium on Wednesday evening with a point to prove, still pained from the events at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago.

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The 34-year-old’s cinco gesture in the media zone after Juve’s February humbling in the Spanish capital was greeted with derision but it was Ronaldo, as it so often has been over the past 13 years, who had the final say come full-time.

If Atleti showed their cojones in Madrid, Ronaldo showed his in Turin.

The days of Ronaldo as a dynamic winger ended at around the mid-point in his Real Madrid career and, over the past five years, the Portugal captain’s decisive, split-second contributions at key moments in matches rather than his overall performances have been what has kept him at the pinnacle of the sport.

Against Atletico, only two of Ronaldo’s outfield teammates who completed the match touched the ball fewer times than the superstar No.7.

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Of course, football isn’t about about touches, it’s about significant moments – and hat-trick hero Ronaldo has provided his fair share of those down the years.

A penny for the thoughts of Florentino Perez, whose Los Blancos empire has crumbled since he sanctioned Ronaldo’s Bernabeu exit in July.

“The president (Perez) looked at me through eyes that didn’t want to say the same thing,” Ronaldo explained in October when discussing his decision to seek pastures new after the World Cup, “[he looked at me] as if I was no longer indispensable to them.”

He’s already indispensable at Juventus, who are looking to end a 23-year wait for European glory with Ronaldo the spearhead. When it was put to him after the win over Atletico that Juve had never managed a feat like it, his response was typically confident.

“This was why Juventus brought me here, to help do things that they have never done before,” he said.

Manchester City may be the favourites to lift the trophy but United should be hoping to avoid Ronaldo’s Juventus more than any other club come Friday morning’s draw in Nyon.

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