English champions Manchester United FC will be boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo when they open the defence of their European crown against Group E rivals and old foes Villarreal CF at Old Trafford.
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Manchester United FC will be boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo when they open the defence of their European crown against Group E rivals Villarreal CF.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, confirmed on the eve of the game that Ronaldo was back ahead of schedule from an ankle operation in July and would take his place in the squad – "more likely on the bench" – for the first time since May's UEFA Champions League final triumph against Chelsea FC. "You're talking about a truly magnificent player and we're delighted he's back," said Sir Alex, who praised the Portugal attacker for his attitude since returning to Old Trafford after United refused his wish for a summer move to Real Madrid CF.
Fillip for United
"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, adding: "He has shown fantastic maturity. There's been no pettiness, no throwing toys out of the pram." Ronaldo struck 42 goals for United last term, including eight in the UEFA Champions League, and his availability provides an undoubted fillip for a team who suffered a first Premier League defeat by arch-rivals Liverpool FC in four years last weekend.
No Rossi reunion
It was a disappointment compounded by the injuries sustained by midfielder Michael Carrick – facing four to six weeks out with a cracked bone in his right foot – and new forward Dimitar Berbatov. Sir Alex, 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 fly to Manchester having failed to overcome a sprained ankle, although Robert Pirès, another player well-known at Old Trafford after six years at Arsenal FC, has travelled having appeared for the first time this season as a substitute in Sunday's 1-0 win against RC Deportivo La Coruña.
This is the visitors' first UEFA Champions League game since their 2005/06 semi-final against Arsenal, the conclusion of a memorable campaign which included two group-stage stalemates with United – results that contributed to the English side's unexpectedly early demise that year. Recalling those meetings with United, Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini, who turned 55 on Tuesday, said: "There are only three players remaining from then – Javi Venta, Marcos Senna and Gonzalo Rodríguez – but it does help us in terms of experience."
Villarreal secured a historic second-placed finish in Spain last term, when they were widely regarded as the Liga's most attractive team. Pellegrini said that while it was important to be "solid at the back" on Wednesday, his charges 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." His United counterpart will certainly not be underestimating the visitors after the "low point" of 2005. "Villarreal are a very experienced team," said Sir Alex. "They all know their jobs, they've got a consistency and are a difficult team to beat."