Manchester United could well be boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo when they open the defence of their European crown against Villarreal at Old Trafford.
United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has confirmed that Ronaldo’s recovery from an ankle operation was ahead of schedule and would take his place in the squad – “more likely on the bench”.
“You’re talking about a truly magnificent player and we’re delighted he’s back,” said Ferguson, who praised the player for his attitude since returning to Old Trafford after United ignored his request for a summer move to Real Madrid.
“He is a young man and has been tempted by the lure of the money, but since we gave him our decision he has accepted it well and his training has been absolutely fantastic; he’s probably been one of the best patients I’ve ever seen,” the manager said.
“He has shown fantastic maturity. There’s been no pettiness, no throwing toys out of the pram.”
Ronaldo’s return is welcome given the injuries sustained by midfielder Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson, who is also missing the suspended Paul Scholes, described the Bulgarian as “very doubtful” because of a knee problem.
For Villarreal, former United striker Giuseppe Rossi did not travel to Manchester having failed to overcome a sprained ankle.
This is the Spanish side’s first Champions League game since their 2005-06 semi-final defeat to Arsenal – the culmination of a campaign that saw Villarreal draw twice with United.
“There are only three players remaining from then – Javi Venta, Marcos Senna and Gonzalo Rodríguez – but it does help us in terms of experience,” said Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini.
Pellegrini said that while it was important to be “solid at the back” on Wednesday, his team would not compromise their positive approach.
“We cannot change our style of play. If we continue to be who we are, and don’t change, then we have a chance.”