Cristiano Ronaldo with his Juventus team-mates on the pitch at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo: It's special for me to return to United

Cristiano Ronaldo admitted it is special for him to return to Manchester United with Juventus for Tuesday’s big UEFA Champions League clash.

The former Reds star is back at Old Trafford for only the second time since leaving the club in 2009, having scored 118 goals in 292 appearances during his magnificent six-year spell. He also returned in 2013 in the same competition with Real Madrid, who were then managed by current United boss Jose Mourinho, and scored in a 2-1 victory for the Spaniards in a last-16 tie.

Rather appropriately, Ronaldo was answering questions from the world’s media in a packed No.7 Suite inside the Theatre of Dreams on Monday evening. Smiling throughout the press conference, the Portuguese international was full of respect for United and acknowledged the part his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson has played in his distinguished career.

“It’s special for me to return to Manchester,” Cristiano told reporters. “When the draw was made, I thought about how much I enjoyed my time here, all the trophies I won and the love everyone showed me, especially Sir Alex Ferguson. I'd like to express my best wishes to him.”

Cristiano Ronaldo speaks to Chris Smalling in the 2017 UEFA Super Cup.
Ronaldo came up against United last season, with Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

Juventus sit top of Group H heading into matchday three after comfortable wins over Valencia and Young Boys. Although Ronaldo knows it’ll be a tough task to beat his former club, he’s confident the Italian champions have what it takes to maintain their 100 per cent record in the competition on Tuesday night.

“We know Manchester United have a good team,” he added. “They play at home, it will be tough for us but we have our weapons. We are Juve so we know it’s going to be tough but we think we have a chance.

“I know if we play good and play the way the coach wants, I think we have a good chance to win the game. Of course, we have to respect Manchester United because they’re a fantastic team, they have an experienced coach. But I expect Juventus will win the game. If we win then we’re virtually guaranteed a place in the knockout rounds.”

‘UNITED ARE BUILT TO WIN’

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri, who will be without three key players in Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira at Old Trafford, has stressed the importance of Tuesday night’s game in the context of the group and how difficult it will be for his team to play against United.

“This is an important period for us. We didn’t start it too well because we drew [1-1] with Genoa [at home] at the weekend. But if we were to win tomorrow, we’d definitely have one foot in the next round.

“Manchester United has quick players, technical players and physical players. They’re a strong team. They’ve been put together and built to win, they have an experienced manager, a real expert for that’s what Mourinho is, and tomorrow we’re going to have to play the right game across the board in all aspects.”

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri during his press conference at Old Trafford.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri knows the scale of the task awaiting his team at Old Trafford.

The Italian went on: “I’m sad that Mandzukic isn’t here and I’m sad that Khedira and Can aren’t here either but regardless of what formation we play, we have to be very clear sighted tomorrow and have clear minds. We need to be very good, very precise and very accurate when we’ve got the ball at our feet because otherwise, they have the kind of alternative that we don’t have tomorrow.

“They can play high balls, they’re all big players, very physical and we’re going to have to be extremely focused especially when we’re playing with the ball on the ground.”

Tuesday’s anticipated clash, arguably the biggest European fixture at Old Trafford since Ronaldo’s last return with Real Madrid five years ago, will also see Paul Pogba come up against the team he left to join the Reds in the summer of 2016.

However, when asked about the player Paul has become since leaving Juve, Allegri was quick to highlight the overall strength of United’s team, as well as the young players at his disposal.

“Tomorrow we’ll be playing against a team of strong players, not just Pogba,” he said. “There’ll be two teams out on the pitch with lots of young people. For example, they have Rashford, Martial and Pogba. We have Dybala, Bernardeschi, Cancelo, Alex Sandro, Bentancur… lots of young players on the pitch tomorrow.

They are the future of football at the world level so it’s a real test of these individual players, playing in this wonderful stadium, against a really good team. It’s a huge test and it’s also a Champions League game and we know how important these games are.”

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