There isn’t a single competition in the world that Cristiano Ronaldo loves more then the UEFA Champions League. Especially so when it reaches the business end of the competition where you have to win or go home. With 67 goals and 15 assists in the 83 knockout matches he has participated in, Ronaldo remains the most formidable and attack potent striker in Champions League history. These impressive goal contributions have come with 17 man of the match awards and four hattricks in the process.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone had the rather queer record of not losing a European knockout game to a team that didn’t have Cristiano Ronaldo. The most interesting one remains the hattrick Ronaldo scored at the Allianz arena in Turin to overturn a 2-0 deficit to Juventus favour. Simply put, the Portuguese is Simeone’s worst nightmare. The Argentine has gone as far as saying, were it not for Ronaldo, he could have won three titles already.

And so, the stage is set tonight for the renewal of this odd player-manager rivalry. Manchester United travel to the Wanda Metropolitano looking to put a shaky run of form in the Premier League and domestic cup competitions behind them. United may have won their past two games but questions still linger about the fluidity of Ralf Rangnick’s side. Defensive frailties and lack to kill off the game despite the numerous chances created have been United’s major undoing. It remains to be seen how they’ll fare against one of the meanest defences in Europe this decade.

However, one might be right to cast doubt over Atletico Madrid’s defence this season. After winning the La Liga ttile in emphatic fashion last season, El Cholo has fallen short of replicating that form with the capital side sitting fifth, 15 points off the top of the table. They have struggled for consistency in large parts of the season with their usually standout performer Jan Oblak, conceding a whopping 34 goals so far.

United come into this game as group winners having relied heavily on Ronaldo to dispatch a group consisting of Atalanta and Villareal. The Los Colchoneros on the other hand, scrapped through the proverbial group of death, finishing second behind Liverpool in a group that also head AC Milan and Porto.

The Red Devils have no fresh injury concerns save for Edinson Cavani who is still out with a groin injury. Simeone meanwhile will be without his captain Koke who picked up a muscle injury in the 3-0 win over Osasuna. Matheus Cunha and Daniel Wass are also out of this blockbuster. 

The battle is definitely set to revolve around Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. French striker Antoinne Griezmann is also returning from injury and can be expected to pull a few strings for the 2016 finalists.

Elsewhere, the tournament’s top scorer in Sebastian Haller will be action when his club Ajax travel to Estadio da Luz to take on Benfica. The Ivorian striker has so far scored 10 goals will be looking to add to his tally against a tricky Portugal side. It is worth noting that Benfica is the club that condemned perennial heavyweights Barcelona to the Europa League.

All games kick off at 11PM EAT

By Ariel Okall