Manchester United must avoid the "nightmare scenario" of Cristiano Ronaldo going one-on-one against a former team-mate in the Champions League last-16 tie in the Bernabeu tomorrow, by assigning several players to snuff out his threat, the club's former captain Gary Neville said tonight.
"When you are up against a player of that quality – just like a Luis Figo, a Brazilian Ronaldo or the Ronaldinho of six years ago – there is really only one solution," Neville told The Independent. "I don't care how good a defender you are, you will very probably suffer if you play one-v-one against him. The only real way to snuff him out is a numbers game."
Though Sir Alex Ferguson billeted Phil Jones – who has recovered from a slight calf strain and is available – in a man-to-man marking role on Everton's Marouane Fellaini on Sunday, it is more likely that two players will double up against Ronaldo, who tends to play on the left of the three behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1. It is a night for which Ferguson could have badly done with Darren Fletcher, whose colitis rules him out for the medium-term.
"I know better than most that as a defender you will be playing in quite a few situations where you are up against someone who has more skill and speed than you," Neville added. "There are other ways of dealing with him. That might mean being physical when you need to be. It might be mental, taking up the right positions against him and being aware.
"You may have one outstanding game when you can stop him but the likelihood is that at some point in the game there will be a problem. You might get too tight. He might wrong-foot you and drive in. It might just be a bit of luck going against you. That's how you deal with a Neymar, or how United dealt with Gareth Bale last month. Jones shuffled across and helped Rafael da Silva snuff out the threat. You crowd the areas where those players operate and discourage them from thinking they can take three or four of you on.
"If you are there in numbers, one of you goes and has a little nibble because there are others behind you. You are discouraging him from doing what he wants to do. The worst-case scenario is a one v one. That is a nightmare scenario."
Jonny Evans, who suffered cramp against Everton, is also fit for tomorrow, though Ferguson is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in central defence – the only doubt in the manager's mind being that Vidic is yet to play two games in succession since returning from knee surgery in December. He has played alternate matches for the past month.
Ronaldo works far more on reaction and timing than the flicks and tricks of his six seasons at Old Trafford, with 32 of his goals coming from open play last season in La Liga and 20 from first touches.
Ferdinand cautioned against too much focus on Ronaldo. "We are going to have to use all of our experience and ability to stop not only Ronaldo, but the others," Ferdinand said. "It's going to be emotional for Ronaldo... but hopefully it gets too emotional for him."