Manchester United’s Champions League last 16 ties against Atletico Madrid will have Cristiano Ronaldo at the very heart of them.
Ronaldo scored six times in five Champions League group stage games to reach this stage, and he has a tremendous record against Atletico, with 25 career goals against them.
The knockout ties fit into a packed schedule for Ronaldo and teammate Bruno Fernandes, who have a huge late-February to late March run of games for club and country.
Ronaldo and Fernandes’ mad month
A crucial month for club and country
- Leeds United (a)
- Atletico Madrid (a)
- Watford (h)
- Manchester City (a)
- Tottenham (h)
- Atletico Madrid (h)
- Liverpool (a)
- Portugal v Turkey
- Portugal v Italy or North Macedonia
March 28 if Portugal beat Turkey
- Leicester (h)
Ronaldo and Fernandes need to be at their best
Every game matters. But even without the Premier League, this is an absolutely crucial month for Fernandes and Ronaldo as their World Cup 2022 hopes rest on winning the play-offs.
The play-offs are badly timed as far as the United pair are concerned. These are big, career impacting international matches, placed right in the midst of a frenetic club run.
The Champions League ties against Atletico Madrid add to the intensity of the month, and with Ronaldo’s history against the Spanish side, there is no getting away from being the centre of attention.
United’s star players need to step up and help. Edinson Cavani needs to stay fit, and Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have to use the big games to make a name for themselves too.
It would be a great time for Paul Pogba to contribute too, as United will need everybody firing on all cylinders to get through this run, which includes games against Liverpool and City sides who wiped the floor with us last time out.
Last time after these fixtures, by time the international games came around, Ronaldo and Fernandes were left jaded and exhausted by United’s troubles, and this carried over for Portugal. This is a risk again this time, but it could work the other way too, if United beat Atletico, and can find a way to knock Liverpool off too, confidence will be flying by time the pair link up for international duty.
One aspect for boss Ralf Rangnick to consider, is the pair’s mindset in the weeks leading up to the Portugal games. Are Ronaldo and Fernandes capable of having total focus on United, or will they become distracted by the upcoming pressure of the make or break play-offs?
If Rangnick spots a weakness in either player, then he won’t be afraid to take them out of the side, for their own good, and the team. A huge month awaits both players, and if they can come through it with the results they want, it will underline their cases as two of the world’s very best.
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