31 matches. 25 goals. Four hat-tricks. Cristiano Ronaldo is not just a thorn in Atletico’s Madrid’s side, he is their outright nemesis. Every single season, from 2014 to 2019, Ronaldo’s team dumped Atleti out of the Champions League - including handing them two gut-wrenching final defeats in both 2014 and 2016.
La Rojiblancos are still chasing that elusive European title, but if Ronaldo didn’t exist, chances are they would have at least one to their name. On Wednesday night they meet again in the Spanish capital, this time with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner now wearing the epochal badge of Manchester United.
These two are not your natural foes in Europe, having only met twice in their history, but the man wearing number seven has enough bad blood with Atleti to serve the entire side. If his latest meeting with Diego Simeone’s men is anything to go by, we are in for another iconic CR7 performance.
The first leg, at the Wanda Metropolitano, was a dismal affair for Juventus. They were beaten 2-0, second to every ball, and the home fans jeered Ronaldo’s every touch. As the second goal went in, Simeone grabbed his crotch in his famous ‘cojones’ celebration on the touchline - a move that would come back to haunt him.
The press zone in Madrid featured a frosty Portuguese superstar, who was in no mood to give Atleti any credit. Having already held up five fingers to the home crowd during the game, he then doubled down on his insult.
“I have won five Champions Leagues. These guys have won zero.”
The second leg needed a Ronaldo-inspired masterclass, and he was well up for the fight, having been mocked during the first leg. In Turin, before kick-off, he had reportedly told his family he would score a hat-trick, and on the pitch, his words turned into reality.
Two headers and a last-gasp penalty completed another iconic comeback, and with his third goal, he aimed his own ‘cojones’ celebration towards a stunned Simeone in the dugout. It was another iconic moment from the greatest Champions League goalscorer in history.
“It is difficult to prepare for a player like Cristiano,” Simeone had said before that famous 2019 semi-final. “He is an animal in front of goal. He has an incredible record and is always difficult to control in any goalscoring situation. He has made us suffer in the past.”
That was two years on from his hat-trick in the 2017 semi-final, as Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years, thanks to their main man. The year before, he scored the winning penalty in the final as Atleti came so close to securing that elusive prize, while in 2014, he hit a penalty in extra-time in an emphatic 4-1 win. In fact, he has more goal contributions against Atleti than any other side on the planet, and has only scored more vs Sevilla, but given the importance of his goals in Europe vs Los Rojiblancos, they are certainly his favourite opponent.
Nobody has played Champions League football like Ronaldo before. Nobody has scored so many goals. Nobody has stepped up in so many big games to turn seemingly lost ties around. He’s already produced for United in the competition so far, but the knockout stages are where the inner animal comes out.
Whether in the white of Real, or the black and white stripes of Juve, Cristiano Ronaldo has consistently haunted Atletico Madrid. Now it's time for the ghost to return for Manchester United.
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