Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Madrid aiming to haunt Atletico in Uefa Champions League
Juventus star back in city he called home for nine years, and in front of supporters whose dreams he has crushed time and again
There is no greater heartbreaker in the Uefa Champions League than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juventus learned that so painfully and so often they broke the bank to make him one of their own last summer. It has ensured that even if his spectacular goals and late match-winning bursts are not guaranteed to make them Europe’s best, he would at least no longer be thwarting them season after season.
Ronaldo goals for Real Madrid beat Juventus in a Champions League final and again in last season’s semi-final. The damage he has inflicted on Atletico Madrid has been even greater.
No individual has done more to interrupt Atletico’s rise over the past seven years than Ronaldo, and those of a sensitive disposition should brace their ears for the piercing whistles that greet the announcement of his name over the loudspeakers at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium shortly before 9pm local time on Wednesday evening.
Ronaldo is back in the city he called home for nine years, and in front of supporters whose dreams he has crushed time and again.
Remember Lisbon? When, in the first Champions League final that paired the two Madrid clubs, Atletico led 1-0 for 57 minutes until the third minute of injury time? Real then sealed it with a Ronaldo penalty, for 4-1 at the end of extra time.
Remember Milan, the second Madrid derby within two years with the championship of Europe at stake? That was also won by a Ronaldo penalty, the last in a spot-kick shootout that had just gone into sudden death.
Remember the Bernabeu, less than 12 months later? A Ronaldo hat-trick in the first leg of the 2016/17 Champions League semi-final all but killed off Atletico’s hopes of at last making a final that would not present them with the spectre of Ronaldo.
He scored all the goals in the first 90 minutes, enough of a cushion against the feverish atmosphere of the away leg.
Ronaldo has not always been Atletico’s nemesis.
In his nine record-breaking seasons at Real, he played in 31 Madrid derbies. That he was on the winning side in fewer than half of them is measure of how Ronaldo bore close witness to Atletico’s transformation.
Under the management of Diego Simeone Atletico went from the brittle, often mocked also-rans in Spain’s capital into a team of trophies, clarity of purpose, and formidable resistance.
Ronaldo saw, close-up, evidence of the Atletico revival in the Copa del Rey final of 2013. He put Real 1-0 up at the Bernabeu. By the end of extra time, he had been sent off and Atletico were preparing to lift the Cup, thanks to their first derby win of the 21st century.
So theirs is rivalry with some ebb-and-flow. Wednesday night's latest chapter looks perhaps the toughest examination yet of Ronaldo’s smooth integration as a Juventus footballer.
He is already the leading scorer for the season in Serie A (19 so far) and its leading provider of assists (8). But the principle requirement of the 33-year-old, is to push Juventus from being silver-medallists and semi-finalists in the European Cup, club football’s most prestigious competition, to one that win it.
Ronaldo will recognise the mean defence, the rugged back line on which Atletico’s Champions League runs of 2014 and 2016 were built, the 2014 Primera Liga triumph was buttressed by, and which took Atletico to the Europa League title last year.
Contests between Ronaldo and Atletico’s commanding centre-half Diego Godin have been compelling viewing for 10 seasons at the elite end of the game; there are few defenders anywhere more acquainted with Ronaldo’s power in the air, his acceleration, of the force of his shot than the Uruguayan.
For Godin, then, it will be a night to try to disprove the claim Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri made that Ronaldo’s move to the Serie A club has not only maintained his status as the most accomplished match-winner in the game, but heightened it.
“In terms of the physical demands, Cristiano is taking on the same as he did with Real Madrid," Allegri said ahead of the trip to Madrid. "In terms of the intensity, he’s taking on even more.”
He has nine goals in his last nine Serie A outings. And he has three Champions League titles from his last three seasons and five European Cups in all.
The hostility he hears from around the Metropolitano on Wednesday night will be reminder that in this competition, the Ronaldo juggernaut is pitiless, and it has run over Atletico more often than most.
Updated: February 20, 2019 11:35 AM