Champions League: Juventus might be favourites but Atletico Madrid relish prospect of facing familiar foe Cristiano Ronaldo

Last July, as Cristiano Ronaldo was moving home base to Turin, it was time to talk numbers. There was so much chatter about his goalscoring records at Real Madrid, and how they possibly couldn’t land anyone who would replicate his impact. Then, there was the inevitable dialogue around his transfer fee, as is true for most generational talents. Was a 33-year-old worth 100 million pounds?

Champions League: Juventus might be favourites but Atletico Madrid relish prospect of facing familiar foe Cristiano Ronaldo

File image of Cristiano Ronaldo. AP

The most staggering numbers of all were generated from Juventus’ J-Medical facility. Ronaldo’s body fat stood at seven percent, around three percent lesser than an average footballer. His muscle mass came out to be 50 percent, four percent more than average. At the World Cup in Russia, Ronaldo’s top speed of 21.1 kmph was higher than anyone else could manage.

That body of Cristiano’s is a piece of art, and if you have anything to do with Atletico Madrid, you probably know it already. Twice, in 2014 and 2016, Diego Simeone’s men ran Real Madrid ragged in Champions’ League finals. Both times, they had to come back with silver medals and a lengthy exhibition of Ronaldo’s chiseled torso. In 2015, their quarter-final tie was veering towards extra-time when Cristiano’s dribble-and-poke set up a cruel winner. In the 2016 semi-finals, he scored a hat-trick in the first-leg, practically killing the tie.

There is very little Atletico Madrid would detest right now as much as the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo’s smirk. If someone at the kit division of Juventus has a wicked enough sense of humor, they should just send out the team in all-whites on Wednesday night.

While it may evoke a few chuckles or some queasy groans from the Atletico fans, you would expect Diego Simeone to relish the prospect of coming up against a familiar foe. He made a playing career out of sheer grit and tenacity, and we have seen a lot of that in his Atletico teams over the years. In an ecosystem tailor-made for them to fold over against the traditional and financial powerhouses, Atletico have stood upright with distinction for close to a decade now.

Admittedly, the team isn’t the physical battering ram they used to be in that 2013-2016 phase, but they are a much sleeker outfit now, as the La Liga table will echo. They sit second, seven points behind Barcelona, two ahead of Real Madrid. No one has conceded fewer goals than them and only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla have scored more.

Atletico’s recent form, however, is a tad uninspiring. In the space of a week this month itself, they lost to Real Betis away and Real Madrid at home. They’ll take comfort from the fact that Juventus too, have shown signs of fragility. Only recently, Atalanta beat them by a shocking 3-0 margin and Parma came back from 1-3 to draw a game. In the Champions’ League group stages, they lost to a stumbling, stuttering Manchester United and the minnows in BSC Young Boys.

And like Atletico, Juventus too have Ronaldo-sized scars to show from the Champions’ League seasons gone by. Only this time, they have their chief tormentor on their side, primed and ready to hunt his other favorite duck down. The edge they had previously lacked, which held them back from going the extra mile in Europe, now wears the black-and-white stripes. Ronaldo is already leading the goal-scoring charts at Juventus, and given his sense of drama and occasion, one can expect him to add to his tally of 21 on Wednesday.

In Paulo Dybala, he has found the perfect ally. The Argentine derives special joy from orchestrating play and setting up goals, and although he would hope to get his goalscoring record back to his usual, lofty standards, he seems more than happy playing off Ronaldo. On the other side of the pitch, the pace and industry of Thomas Lemar, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata have all the tools to trouble the aging yet incredibly effective duo of Bonucci and Chiellini.

On paper and by form, Juventus enter this tie as favorites, and it won’t bother Atletico too much. No one has thrived more off the underdog status quo as them, and unless something untoward happens, or Cristiano Ronaldo shows up in full glory, you can expect the tie to stay alive deep into the return fixture.

Diego Simeone would give an arm and leg to slay the dragon, and if the Atletico players can play in the same vein, they have more than an outside chance to turn the tables on Ronaldo and Juventus.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 15:02:33 IST

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