The Champions League often throws up fascinating storylines. Jose Mourinho's Inter toppling Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Deportivo's sensational comeback win against Milan, for example. Tonight's game at the Etihad Stadium is no different.
As Manchester City cling on to the slim chances of qualification to the knockout stages, Real Madrid travel to England aiming to secure their passage through to the next phase. City are trying to emulate Madrid and establish themselves as a European powerhouse, something Los Blancos have been for many years. With plenty of financial backing behind them, City have assembled a title-winning team, but one that has struggled to impress on the European stage, and could crash in the group stages for the second successive year.
But the main narrative from tomorrow's clash will be that Madrid's main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, is returning to Manchester for the first time since his world record £80m switch from Manchester United to the Bernabeu.
Having impressed as a youngster with Sporting Lisbon, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson swooped to sign the 18-year-old and even insisted on him taking the fabled No 7 shirt, previously worn by United heroes such as George Best, Eric Cantona and his predecessor, David Beckham – despite Ronaldo’s more modest request at the time.
“After I joined, the manager asked me what number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said ‘No, you’re going to have No 7,’ and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour.”
During his six-year spell at Old Trafford, Ronaldo became a fans’ favourite and cemented himself as one of the finest football players on the planet. He won three Premier League winners’ medals as well as the Champions League, whilst of course being a thorn in Manchester City's side during his stint in the Premier League, before that famous move to Madrid in 2009.
Despite his reputation as a modern day great, Ronaldo travels to the Etihad Stadium, a place where his last memory isn't a happy one.
In his final year with United, Ronaldo faced City away from home, and whilst United won the game with a Wayne Rooney goal, Ronaldo's game ended with an early bath. Already on a booking for a reckless challenge, Ronaldo mistakenly thought he'd heard the referee’s whistle, and handled the ball in mid-air to stop the play. The whistle was never blown, and the referee deemed the act a deliberate handball, and sent Ronaldo off – and then he jetted off to Spain.
This time, Ronaldo arrives back in England having scored a staggering 165 goals in 162 games for Jose Mourinho's side, and will be looking to exhibit his goalscoring prowess once again as he returns to the city that made him the superstar he is today.
With City's hopes of qualification hanging by the slenderest of threads, the last thing their fans will want to see is Ronaldo wheeling away in celebration – but going with the odds, he might well do so – just as he did against the Blues in September.