It was bound to happen, and on Wednesday night it will. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo comes face to face with Manchester United for the first time since leaving the club in a world record £80 million deal in June 2009 in what will be an emotional occasion for everybody’s least favourite Portuguese poser (sorry, Jose) and the Red Devils fans who used to worship the ground he dived on.
But as two giants of European football clash in the pick of the Champions League last-16 ties, could it be the new darling of Old Trafford who comes out on top when Manchester and Madrid clash?
I’m not talking about Wayne Rooney, who Spanish newspaper Marca have written a brutal (yet alarmingly accurate) article about, calling the England star a ‘freckled demon’ and, admittedly rather harshly, ‘player and hooligan rolled into one’.
Perhaps they got him mixed up with Joey Barton.
But alas, it is Robin van Persie who is currently the apple of the Stretford End’s eye after a hugely successful move from rivals Arsenal in the summer (a phrase the Manchester clubs are getting used to) and his head-to-head battle with the second-best player in the world (I wrote that because I know how much Ronaldo loves being reminded about it) could well be the key to who emerges victorious over the course of 180 minutes.
Both players have been performing at ridiculously high levels this season, with RVP looking like being the difference for United in the title ‘race’ and Ronaldo keeping Madrid afloat with a shed full of goals: 24 in 22 La Liga games and 36 in all competitions, to be precise.
The flying Dutchman has scored 23 goals for United this term and bwin’s odds about the two main players are intriguing because they are skewed by the fact Madrid are the 3/5 favourites to win at the Bernabeu, with the draw at 17/5 and the Red Devils at 18/5.
With home advantage, Ronaldo is the shortest priced player in the goalscoring markets: the perma-tanned one is odds-on at 17/20 to score at any time and is 7/2 favourite for the first goal.
This has every chance of happening, but the odds-on shout for him to score is a bit too short for me, even if he has hit 14 goals since Spain came back from its winter break.
But because United are as big as 18/5 to win the match, you can get 7/4 about van Persie notching at any time, which is as big a price to be chalked up against his name all season.
RVP is 13/2 to open the scoring, but for me, if you believe in value, the £24 million man has to be backed at 7/4 to score.
After all, with goals at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and the Etihad Stadium already this season, he has shown that he has the knack of being United’s big-game player and they don’t come much bigger than this one.
Elsewhere, Ronaldo has hit three hat-tricks since the start of January and is 18/1 to do so again, which is a pretty diabolical price. RVP is 66/1. But that isn’t going to happen either.
But bwin’s enhanced odds market about the head-to-head battle – which you can see right here – is an interesting one. Ronaldo is 11/10 to outscore Van Persie, who is 4/1 to do likewise.
Preference could be for the tie at 8/5, however, as I think both players could get on the scoresheet on Wednesday to set up an exciting second leg when Ronaldo will be back on his old stomping ground, no doubt stomping about when somebody doesn’t pass him the ball and looking like he is about to cry.