An attendance of 109,000 is expected at Michigan Stadium to witness the return of Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s two biggest clubs go head-to-head in the International Champions Cup on Saturday. As leaders of Group A, Manchester United will be assured of a place in Monday’s final in Miami if they emerge with anything but a defeat in normal time. Defeat for Real Madrid against Roma on Tuesday means the Spaniards are already eliminated and are playing for pride.
While United meeting Real is a mouthwatering prospect for the soccer neutral, all the talk will be about Ronaldo possibly returning against his former club. The Portugal forward looks as though he has shaken off an injury that has left him sidelined since his side crashed out of the World Cup finals in Brazil.
Previous meetings: United and Real and have met in a number of epic encounters over the years. The most recent match, during the 2012/13 season, saw former Red Devils hero Ronaldo inspire the boys from the Bernabéu to a 3-2 aggregate win in the last 16 of the Champions League.
In 2003, United were undone by another Ronaldo – the Brazil great – whose hat-trick saw Real win the 2003 quarter-finals. Ronaldo was given a standing ovation by the Old Trafford crowd. However, arguably the most iconic clash between the sides came en-route to United becoming the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968, when they defeated Real 4-3 in the semi-finals.
Real head coach: Carlo Ancelotti’s job description when he joined in the summer of 2013 was uncomplicated: win the club’s 10th Champions League title. He did just that as his side defeated neighbors Atlético Madrid in May. With Atlético in the ascendency and Barcelona licking their wounds after a disappointing last season by their standards, Ancelotti knows he cannot afford to rest on his laurels. Signing Colombian James Rodríguez is proof he is taking things seriously.
With Gareth Bale, Ronaldo and James bearing down on defenses, Ancelotti will be expected to win more silverware for his club next season. However, there has been constant talk of Ronaldo possibly making a return to United the season after when he will be 30-years-old. Although he has never said publicly he will definitely re-join United as a player, Ronaldo takes every opportunity to say how much he misses the club and that one day he could emerge from the tunnel in a red shirt. Ronaldo’s Real won last year’s ICC and although the chance to defend the title has now gone, his immediate focus will be on returning to soccer against Manchester United as he bids to get match fit ahead of another grueling La Liga season.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd
Photo by Jan Solo