Cristiano Ronaldo gave Manchester United fans a glimpse of what they thought they were getting from his second coming at Old Trafford with a trio of thumping finishes to see off Tottenham 3-2 on Saturday.
The 59th career hat-trick of Ronaldo’s career was just his second for United and a first in 14 years as his second spell has failed to match the hype around his signing in August.
United go into Tuesday’s finely balanced Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid, after a 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital, knowing European glory is their only remaining chance of silverware this season.
Ronaldo has tended to save his best for the Champions League this season, scoring six goals in the group stage just to ensure United did not suffer the ignominy of a group stage exit for the second consecutive season.
However, his subdued performance as a frustrated and isolated figure up front the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago was more reflective of the problems Ralf Rangnick has faced during his interim spell as United manager.
The German is credited as the Godfather of the high-energy, pressing style of play that has inspired the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel to go on to be Champions League winners as coaches.
Rangnick has not been able to implement the same verve to United, much of which has been blamed on a 37-year-old Ronaldo’s inability or unwillingness to press.
The Portuguese has also been pointed at as the source for stories of dressing room disquiet that seem to leak out after every poor result.
Amid reports he was set to be dropped for last weekend’s Manchester derby, Ronaldo jetted back to his homeland to rehab a hip injury that was given as the official reason for missing a 4-1 thrashing at the Etihad.
Rangnick joked that maybe he should sanction that trip more regularly after Ronaldo returned to Manchester in scintillating form to put Spurs to the sword.
But he also did not hold back in his assessment of Ronaldo’s work off the ball in recent weeks.
“Today he showed for sure that he is physically capable to do that,” Rangnick said of Ronaldo’s defensive contribution.
“We also have to admit that it has not always been like that in the past weeks and months.
“Today showed exactly that he is still in physical shape to perform at that level.”
Ronaldo’s performance impressed the watching Tom Brady as the seven-time Super Bowl winner told his fellow superstar to “keep playing” as they embraced on the Old Trafford pitch after the game.
Whether he stays for the second year of his contract at United will depend heavily on if the Red Devils make it into the Champions League next season.
Into the twilight years of his career, he can ill afford a season off the biggest stage where he shines brightest.
Atletico know that only too well. Between 2014 and 2019, Ronaldo was on the opposite side for all five of their exits in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, twice inflicting the ultimate blow in final defeats to Real Madrid.
Ronaldo’s treble on Saturday set another goalscoring record as he now has the most goals in men’s professional football according to FIFA’s records with 807.
Only Sevilla have suffered more in that total than the 25 Atletico have conceded.
As United’s struggles have laid bare, Ronaldo may not be the force he once was.
But he is still the one Diego Simeone’s men will fear most coming back to haunt them on the big occasion.
Atletico Madrid won a bad-tempered game in Porto on Tuesday to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League as Liverpool and Ajax both completed the group stage with 100 percent records.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico, who lost to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, needed to beat Porto in Portugal to advance to the knockout phase and they duly triumphed 3-1 in a game which featured three red cards.
Antoine Griezmann put the Spanish champions ahead in the 56th minute at the Estadio do Dragao but they then had Yannick Carrasco sent off for wrestling Otavio to the ground.
With tempers flaring, Porto were also reduced to 10 men as Wendell was sent off for elbowing Atletico’s Matheus Cunha in the neck, before their substitute goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin also saw red.
With Porto pushing forward in search of the draw they needed to qualify, Atletico got their second goal on the break in the last minute through Angel Correa before Rodrigo De Paul scored their third in injury time. Sergio Oliveira’s penalty was a mere consolation for Porto.
Atletico finish second in Group B, a huge 11 points behind group winners Liverpool, who made it six wins out of six in Europe this season by beating AC Milan 2-1 at San Siro despite fielding a virtual reserve side.
Milan had to win to stand a chance of going through and they went ahead midway through the first half through Fikayo Tomori.
Mohamed Salah did start for the visitors and he equalised in the 36th minute before Divock Origi — who scored a stoppage-time winner in the Premier League at the weekend — made it 2-1 10 minutes into the second half, heading in after Sadio Mane’s shot was saved.
“It’s an exceptional performance,” said manager Jurgen Klopp. “With that many changes, the boys have to be confident enough to show how good they are. I saw so many good things tonight, it was unbelievable.”
Milan finish bottom of the group in their first Champions League campaign since 2013-14, with Porto parachuting into the Europa League.
Real Madrid Top Group
Elsewhere, Real Madrid secured top spot in Group D with a 2-0 defeat of Inter Milan at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Both sides had already qualified for the last 16 and Real just needed a draw to top the group.
They went ahead through an early Toni Kroos strike, and Inter had Nicolo Barella sent off just after the hour mark before substitute Marco Asensio sealed Real’s victory with a stupendous strike.
“Our objective is to go all the way, not just reach the last 16,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Moldovan debutants Sheriff Tiraspol had already secured third place before Boban Nikolov’s injury-time goal earned them a 1-1 draw at bottom side Shakhtar Donetsk, for whom Fernando had opened the scoring.
Haller Strikes Again
Ajax made it six wins out of six in Group C by defeating Sporting Lisbon 4-2 in Amsterdam in a game played behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands.
Sebastien Haller put Ajax ahead with an early penalty for his 10th goal in the group stage, while Brazilian duo Antony and David Neres added further goals and Steven Berghuis was also on target.
Nuno Santos and Bruno Tabata netted for Sporting, who had already secured second place to qualify ahead of Borussia Dortmund.
The Germans crushed 10-man Besiktas 5-0 with Donyell Malen getting the opener and Marco Reus scoring a brace before Erling Haaland came off the bench to score two headers in the second half.
Mbappe, Messi Doubles
Earlier Manchester City, having already clinched first place in Group A, lost 2-1 at RB Leipzig, with Dominik Szoboszlai and Andre Silva on target for the Germans in their first game since sacking coach Jesse Marsch.
Riyad Mahrez pulled one back for City, who had Kyle Walker sent off late on as Leipzig took third place.
Paris Saint-Germain, who finish second in the group, crushed Club Brugge 4-1 with Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi both scoring twice.
Mbappe’s goals both came inside the first seven minutes and he then set up Messi’s first goal, with the Argentinian adding a penalty as he moved on to five Champions League goals in five appearances this season.
Chelsea eased into the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 3-0 aggregate victory over Atletico Madrid, as Hakim Ziyech and Emerson Palmieri goals secured a last 16, second leg win at Stamford Bridge.
Thomas Tuchel said “super hungry” Chelsea have their sights set on reaching the Champions League final after Hakim Ziyech ended his goal drought to inspire a 2-0 win against Atletico Madrid in the last-16 second leg on Wednesday.
Morocco forward Ziyech grabbed his first goal since October to put the hosts ahead in the first half at Stamford Bridge.
Emerson came off the bench to score the late goal that sealed a comfortable 3-0 aggregate victory over the lacklustre La Liga leaders.
Adding to Atletico’s misery, Stefan Savic was sent off in the closing stages for elbowing Antonio Rudiger in the stomach.
While Chelsea were the superior side for long periods, Atletico could justifiably claim they should have had a penalty for Cesar Azpilicueta’s challenge on Yannick Carrasco when the score was still 0-0.
Tuchel admitted it could have been a penalty, saying: “Azpi got a bit frightened because his ball was short, I was a bit frightened as well.”
But Atletico boss Diego Simeone added: “We are not looking for excuses. We were beaten by a better team. We tried to press them up the field, but couldn’t attack the way we like.”
That was the only major scare for Chelsea as they extended their unbeaten run to 13 matches since Tuchel replaced the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
Tuchel boasts the longest ever unbeaten start by a Chelsea boss after moving past Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Revitalised by Tuchel, Chelsea have conceded just two goals in his brief reign and are on a run of six consecutive clean sheets in all competitions.
“A very good performance, unbelievable effort. I could feel we totally wanted it,” Tuchel said.
“We enjoyed the battle. The guys were totally on and sharp. We were super hungry to go through.”
Leading Chelsea into the last eight for the first time since 2014 is another feather in Tuchel’s cap as the German eyes a return to the Champions League final following his defeat with Paris Saint-Germain against Bayern Munich last season.
“They play with a special bond. Fixtures and results like this give you a certain edge to achieve special things. I’m pretty sure no-one wants to play against us,” Tuchel said.
“Quarter-final means there’s only four games (until the final). It’s a big step and feels excellent.”
Chelsea, Champions League winners for the only time in 2012, had been eliminated in the first knockout stage in their last four appearances.
But they never looked in danger of losing the 1-0 lead given to them by Olivier Giroud’s overhead kick in the first leg in Bucharest.
– Azpilicueta escape –
Crucially, Azpilicueta escaped without punishment when the defender’s under-hit back-pass allowed Carrasco to nip ahead of him in the penalty area.
Azpilicueta responded with a panicked tug that sent Carrasco tumbling but Atletico’s penalty appeal was controversially rejected by referee Daniele Orsato, with VAR bizarrely opting not to intervene.
Simeone’s anger only increased as Chelsea made the most of their good fortune to take the lead in the 34th minute.
Timo Werner now has just two goals in his last 27 appearances for Chelsea.
But Tuchel backed Werner to come good this week and the Germany forward repaid his manager’s faith with a strong performance capped by the key contribution to Ziyech’s opener.
Breaking at pace after Werner blocked Kieran Trippier’s cross, Kai Havertz fed his team-mate on the left flank.
Werner accelerated away from the out-of-position Atletico defence before clipping a perfectly-weighted pass into Ziyech’s path.
Unmarked 10 yards from goal, Ziyech finished Chelsea’s thrust with a clinical strike.
Savic’s frustration boiled over in the 81st minute as he was dismissed for a needless elbow that drew a theatrical fall from Rudiger.
With Chelsea’s injured defender Thiago Silva roaring on Emerson from the stands, the left-back blasted home from Christian Pulisic’s pass in stoppage-time, sparking a wild celebration that encapsulated the feel-good factor fuelling the Blues at present.
Atletico Madrid’s La Liga challenge will not succeed or fail on Saturday but end a decade-long drought by beating Barcelona and they could justifiably become favourites for the title.
A first league victory over Barca since 2010 would put Atletico nine points clear of their opponents and extend an impressive unbeaten run in the league to 24 matches.
They have played seven games so far this season, scoring 17 goals while conceding only two.
A convincing start, spearheaded by a flourishing Joao Felix and the invigorated Luis Suarez, has generated optimism but a real sense of opportunity has sprouted from the imperfections of their rivals.
Real Madrid have already lost twice, with Zinedine Zidane under pressure and all the guile and resilience that won them the title in July seemingly now absent four months later.
Barcelona are trying to begin again under Ronald Koeman but the teething problems that have them sitting eighth ahead of the trip to the Wanda Metropolitano are unlikely to be resolved soon, particularly with the upheaval of presidential elections to come in January.
Two teams at what feels like the end of two hugely successful cycles has created an opening for Atletico, whose own transition should be further along after their new crop proved raw last season but looks readier to capitalise this term.
The most obvious example of maturity is Felix, the 21-year-old who struggled to live up to expectations in his first year but has arguably been La Liga’s most influential player at this early stage of his second.
It is a great pity that Suarez, infected by coronavirus, will not face Barcelona, the club that so clumsily cast him aside in the summer.
But if Atletico are to win the title this season, it is likely to be with Felix as the driving force.
The Portuguese has already equalled the nine goals and assists he managed last season, with his instinctive, creative talents helping to unlock Atletico’s previously stodgy attack.
“He’s always had great moments for us but what he has now is consistency,” said coach Diego Simeone last month. “It’s a big year for him and hopefully he’ll keep getting better.”
Felix’s next challenge is to define games like this one and to give Simeone’s side even just a taste of the lethal touch in this fixture that Lionel Messi has given Barcelona.
Simeone was left applauding when Messi’s superb strike into the corner decided the contest at the Wanda Metropolitano last year, his 31st goal in 40 games against Atletico.
Messi is the thorn in Simeone’s side but the 33-year-old has not been his scintillating self in recent weeks, still weighed down perhaps by his blocked attempt to leave last summer.
There could be a lack of freshness in his legs too this weekend, given the Argentinian only finished playing 90 minutes against Peru in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Barca will also be missing Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets, both of them injured.
Even without Suarez, Atletico may feel then like the time is now to overcome their Catalan jinx, with the reward in the table potentially significant if a depleted Real Madrid also stumble away at Villarreal a few hours earlier.
Madrid’s defensive problems will not be helped by injuries to Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane while Villarreal are flying high in second, following four victories on the bounce.
But the benefits to Atletico in terms of belief could be even more valuable than places jumped or gaps extended, with major rivals vulnerable and a league title there for taking.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Osasuna v Huesca (2000)
Levante v Elche (1300), Villarreal v Real Madrid (1515), Sevilla v Celta Vigo (1730), Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (2000)
Eibar v Getafe (1300), Cadiz v Real Sociedad (1515), Granada v Real Valladolid (1730), Alaves v Valencia (2000)
Atletico Madrid announced the signing of Barcelona forward Luis Suarez late on Wednesday, confirming the Uruguayan striker is set to continue playing in La Liga rather than joining Juventus in Italy.
Barcelona said that Atletico had agreed to pay six million euros for Suarez, who left his last training session in tears on Wednesday having been told over the summer that he was no longer required by new coach Ronald Koeman.
Since joining Barca from Liverpool in 2014, Suarez has won a host of trophies, including the 2015 Champions League and four Liga titles.
He leaves as the club’s third-highest scorer with 198 goals behind Cesar Rodriguez (232) and Lionel Messi (634).
The move to Barcelona’s La Liga rivals follows a failed attempt to join Juventus.
Juve coach Andrea Pirlo disclosed last week a deal was unlikely because of delays in the Uruguayan’s bid to get an Italian passport.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in Perugia said they suspected Suarez of cheating to pass his Italian language test with the aid of examiners suspected of helping him.
The exit of the 33-year-old from Camp Nou comes as Koeman attempts to reshape Barcelona.
As well as Suarez, the Dutchman has shown the exit to Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic, while French defender Samuel Umtiti is also set to leave.
Spanish television channel Gol showed Suarez wiping away tears with his sleeve as he drove off after saying his last goodbyes to teammates at Barcelona’s Sant Joan Despi training centre.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp expects a very different atmosphere at Anfield will help turn his side’s Champions League last 16 tie with Atletico Madrid around after a 1-0 first leg defeat in the Spanish capital on Tuesday.
Saul Niguez’s early strike inflicted just Liverpool’s second defeat of the season in all competitions with a senior team.
The holders were frustrated by the hosts’ playacting and Polish referee Szymon Marciniak’s performance as Atletico boss Diego Simeone whipped the Wanda Metropolitano crowd into a frenzy.
“Wow, that’s energy!” Klopp told BT Sport when asked about Simeone’s touchline antics.
“I don’t think I have to do that much to be honest (in the second leg), I hope I can be focused a little bit more on the game.
“Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield! It’s not over yet.”
Klopp replaced Sadio Mane at half-time with the Senegalese at risk of being sent-off as Atletico players surrounded Marciniak demanding a second yellow card for the African player of the year just before the break.
“He was targeted that was clear,” added Klopp.
“Sadio played a really good first half and they only thing they wanted is to make sure he gets a yellow card.
“For me we didn’t lose, it’s only half-time, the score is 1-0 that’s all. But you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere, that was obviously not easy.”
The visitors were also riled by the celebrations of Simeone and some of his players at full-time after they secured a victory that could kickstart at faltering season.
“They’ve celebrated as if they’ve won the tie after the game, so let’s see,” said left-back Andy Robertson.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks, Premier League business to take care of, and then we’re coming back to Anfield.
“We know our fans will be there, we’ll be there, so it’s up to them to come as well.”
Zinedine Zidane’s double substitution at half-time transformed the Madrid derby on Saturday as Real Madrid edged past Atletico 1-0 to move six points clear at the top of La Liga.
Karim Benzema scored the winner at the Santiago Bernabeu after Zidane’s decisive intervention turned a contest that Atletico had dominated into another comfortable Real Madrid victory.
Vinicius Junior, one of the substitutes, was a key to the goal.
Second-place Barcelona can cut the gap back to three points by beating Levante at home on Sunday but Atletico now trail the leaders by 13 points.
While Diego Simeone’s side were excellent in the first half, they were yet again blunt in front of goal and then failed to respond when their opponents found a different gear.
This is Atletico’s fifth game without a win. The worry is that on this form, they should worry not about the title race but about missing out on Champions League qualification.
It is a far cry from pre-season when Atletico thrashed Real 7-3 and many were tipping them as serious challengers.
Zidane was under pressure then, but his team are on a relentless run, now 21 games unbeaten, the latest due in large part to his changes.
The decision to ditch a failing system and revert to 4-3-3, with Vinicuis Junior and Lucas Vazquez coming on for Isco and Toni Kroos, was both brave and effective.
Real’s form is impressive and they have Eden Hazard, out since November, on the brink of a return, perhaps on Thursday in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Real Sociedad.
Gareth Bale’s absence was not related to fitness. The Welshman was left out of the squad despite training for most of the week after an ankle injury.
Atletico were without the injured Kieran Trippier, meaning Sime Vrsaljko came in a right-back. January signing Yannick Carrasco was named on the bench, after rejoining from Dalian Yifang the day before.
Simeone’s side were significantly better in the first half and should have taken one of a handful of decent chances as Vitolo hit Thibaut Courtois, Saul Niguez flashed wide and Angel Correa poked past the post after going through one-on-one, even if he probably would have been called offside.
Real Madrid’s cluster of central midfielders looked unsure of their 4-3-2-1 shape. Fede Valverde looked particularly uncomfortable as he spent much of the first half as a right winger. Luka Modric was virtually anonymous in his more advanced role.
Zidane’s double change was a recognition of Atletico’s superiority as he reverted to the more familiar 4-3-3 with Modric deeper in midfield.
The balance shifted immediately. Real dominated the start of the second half.
In the 56th minute, Vinicius cut in from the left and slipped in the overlapping Ferland Mendy, whose cross to the back post gave Benzema a simple finish.
Atletico had been weakened shortly before when Alvaro Morata, perhaps the best player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, went off with an injury. He was replaced by Thomas Lemar, whom Simeone expected to be sold in the January transfer window.
Real retreated a little, perhaps waiting for an Atletico push that never came.
Valverde enjoyed a spontaneous standing ovation for a burst forward, an appreciation too perhaps for his brilliant breakthrough season. Another roar of approval greeted the final whistle.
Cristiano Ronaldo remains in doubt for Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid in Turin, Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said on Monday.
The 34-year-old Portuguese international was rested for Saturday’s Serie A game against Atalanta which Juventus won 3-1 thanks to a Gonzalo Higuain double to stay top of the Italian league.
“Cristiano trained with his teammates yesterday (Sunday),” said Sarri.
“It seems that his condition is improving but we still have to evaluate between today and tomorrow.
“The positive thing he was able to play throughout the training session with his teammates.”
Defender Matthijs de Ligt, who suffered a dislocated shoulder, and forward Federico Bernardeschi, who bruised his chest, also need to be evaluated, Sarri said.
Ronaldo was substituted in Juventus’s previous two games including their Champions League game at Lokomotiv Moscow with a slight knee problem.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner and hit back with four goals to help Portugal qualify for Euro 2020.
“My relationship with Cristiano is good,” said Sarri, “if a player who has won so much is angry about being substituted, it means he still has a lot of motivation, and this is something positive.”
Juventus are already through to the last 16 and want to finish top of Group D with second-placed Atletico needing a win to guarantee their place.
“Atletico are a difficult side to play against, we have to think we want to qualify being the leader of the group that is our target for tomorrow,” said Sarri.
Sarri conceded he was spoilt for choice up front between Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Higuain.
“We have three very strong strikers for just two roles, I think it is an ideal situation, nobody will be able to play 65 matches, including with the national team,” continued the Juventus coach.
“Playing Dybala, Higuain and Cristiano all together is difficult because of their characteristics, but all three know how to play really well and are comfortable with each other.”
Higuain, who has scored five goals this season, sat alongside Sarri in the press conference, and praise his coach, who he also played under at Napoli and Chelsea.
“Obviously I spent some of the best season’s of my career with Mr Sarri, I know exactly what he wants,” said the 31-year-old Argentine who joined the veteran coach at Chelsea last season after an unhappy five-month loan spell at AC Milan.
“Compared to last year I had to change something in my head and he (Sarri) helped me a lot.
“Mentally and physically I’m in great shape and the manager has been helping me a lot.”