So one of my assignments for news.bwin.com/en/ this week is a piece on how Manchester United can keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet for Real Madrid tonight.
Immediately, memories flooded back from the time I worked as a very, very poor man’s – slightly overweight and less debonair – James Bond-type spy, operating behind the Iron Curtain.
It obviously ended in tears when I compromised national security by giving out the Queen’s phone number to a hareem of blonde escorts, but I can still recall vital pieces of my espionage training.
If I was planning to keep Ronaldo quiet, I’d simply employ a few of the dark arts I learnt in pre-Perestroika Moscow.
There’s the old laxative in the Lucozade trick, or if you want to go one better you could easily pick him off with a tranquiliser dart.
If those options sound a bit draconian, then you could always nick his gel so he’s afraid to be seen in public. Simple, but effective.
And if those methods were good enough to satisfy communist tyrants with an appalling human rights record, then they should interest Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, but I dare say on this occasion the Archduke of Govan will stick to more sporting methods of oppression.
If Ferguson’s side are to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League then they will need to thoroughly reduce the Cristiano Ronaldo effect at Old Trafford.
The former United star has banged in over a goal a game for Madrid since joining for a record £80m in 2009 and it was his strike at the Bernabeu which nullified Danny Welbeck’s away goal and ended the game on parity.
If Ronaldo finds the target once again, the Reds will need at least two goals to progress outright and that’s not taking into consideration Ronaldo – or any other of Los Galacticos’ superstars – netting another.
The world’s second-best player has been responsible for almost half of Real’s goals in the games he has played, so it is fair to suggest that in terms of neutralising the Spanish champions, keeping Ronaldo out is half the battle.
bwin has Ronaldo as evens to score at any point in the 90 minutes of tonight’s tie, while pegging him at 17/4 to score two or more and 25/1 to emulate his famous namesake’s achievement on Real’s previous Old Trafford visit in 2003 by scoring a hat-trick.
In other words, new bwin customers using their free £20 bet to back Ronaldo to score two or more goals this evening would pocket returns of £105 if successful.
A fortnight ago, Phil Jones did a decent job of shackling the Portuguese winger but with the 21-year-old bruiser set to miss out through injury, United will have to find other ways to shut out their long-departed number seven.
A big part of that task will fall on the shoulders of Rafael. The young Brazilian right-back has enjoyed his best campaign for the champions-elect but he’ll still be unknotting himself from the runaround he got in the first leg.
If Rafael is to get another crack, then he may be wise to stop ushering Ronaldo in on his right foot. The 28-year-old has a penchant for drifting in from the left to let go his howitzers and Rafael was more than accommodating in allowing him to do so in the last meeting.
It’s easier said than done, but forcing Ronaldo down the outside on his left will negate the prospect of a load of shots raining in on David de Gea, and even Ronaldo can’t get on the end of his own left-footed crosses.
Of course, Madrid’s main man has licence to roam and his jet-heeled header at the Bernabeu came when he popped up on the right, nodding in an Angel di Maria cross after the pair had switched flanks.
The 6ft 1in forward can out-jump most defenders and had no problem getting above Patrice Evra, so it might be a thought for Ferguson to deploy Chris Smalling in one of the full-back slots to add some height and weight to the defence.
Ferguson spoke during his pre-match press conference about the necessity to attack Madrid, and although you have to admire his bravado, I do wonder whether that is the right approach.
Jose Mourinho’s side are the most potent counter-attacking team I have ever seen and if United get too giddy, Real have the ability to pick them off on the break, with Ronaldo leading the charge.
As it stands, a 0-0 would get the job done for the Premier League leaders but conceding the first goal will give them a mountain to climb as they’ll need to come at the visitors and make them susceptible to another lightning strike.
Patience is the key here and United need to make Real find a way through, rather than allow them to exploit the space they’ve obligingly created.
Ferguson seems confident enough but I can’t say I share that feeling. Despite my revolutionary advice, I cannot see United keeping Ronaldo and Real out and I think Los Blancos have enough ammunition to score at least twice and win the game.
I’m going to be bold here and say Mourinho and Madrid will put on a show, and I’m tempted by them to win both halves at 21/4. I’ll be on that, and you should too.
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