Ralf Rangnick believes Cristiano Ronaldo will be in the shape to repeat his heroics against Tottenham when he faces an old enemy in Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
The Portuguese scored a hat-trick against Spurs on Saturday in his first game back after missing the Manchester derby with a hip flexor injury.
At 37, Ronaldo faces a second high-pressure game in four days as United, who drew 1-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano last month, look to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for only the second time in eight years.
The veteran has had a heavy workload, playing the most minutes of any United outfield player in the Champions League, the third most in the Premier League and making 36 appearances for clubs and country.
But Rangnick said: "I'm not worried that he's not been able to recover. He has always been a person that looks after himself and his body. He knows what to do. If he can score another three goals, we will see. It's not easy to score three goals against this team. His overall performance [against Tottenham] was good, if not very good, and this is what we hope to see from him again."
Ronaldo scored 25 times against Atletico in Madrid derbies, including one in the 2014 Champions League final and the conclusive penalty in the 2016 final shoot-out, but was ineffectual in the first leg. Anthony Elanga got a late equaliser for United but Rangnick admitted his side need to perform better against Diego Simeone’s side.
"It's not just about Cristiano, it's about the whole team, we saw in the first half in Madrid, what we shouldn't do, how we shouldn't play and this was a big topic for us,” he said. “We have to know what it takes and tactically takes and the rest is about energy."
Rangnick believes the defensive excellence of Atletico makes it still more significant to score first. "It's very important,” he explained. “Even more so against a team like Atletico, who don't mind the other team having the ball. In their last four or five games, they had less than 50 per cent [of] possession. We are aware of that, we want to try not to concede at all if possible, but it will be important to score the first goal ourselves.”
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Ronaldo is not the only Real Madrid old boy looking to frustrate Atletico but Rangnick suggested Raphael Varane faces a battle for his place. “With Victor Lindelof we have also won quite a few games and played well and had quite a few clean sheets,” he said. “We have top players in the centre of defence and it will not be so easy for me to take that decision.”
Rangnick could have a fully-fit squad to pick from with Luke Shaw probably available after missing the last two games because of Covid and Bruno Fernandes, who sat out the win over Tottenham, testing negative on Sunday and back in contention.
Atletico will be without the suspended Yannick Carrasco and the injured Thomas Lemar and Sime Vrsaljko. Simeone faces a decision on whether to start with Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, who were both substitutes in the first leg.
With United fifth in the Premier League and Atletico fourth in La Liga, neither is guaranteed to be in the Champions League next season. Rangnick nevertheless has other incentives to win tonight.
“It's more about our own sporting ambition,” he said. “We are highly ambitious, we want to proceed, we want to show that we can compete with the best teams in Europe and therefore we will try everything to win the game. It doesn't matter which way we qualify for Champions League next season. The question is what is most realistic.”