Manchester United go up against Middlesbrough tonight hoping to book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s first match against the Championship outfit since 2008, having left Old Trafford for Real Madrid the following year. And Sir Alex Ferguson was far from happy after that game.
Manchester United met with Middlesbrough in December 2008 hoping to boost their chances of retaining the Premier League title.
They trailed Liverpool and Chelsea at the time and were forced to dig deep in the match under the lights at Old Trafford.
United won 1-0 in the end, with Dimitar Berbatov scoring the only goal of the game.
Ronaldo struggled on a rare off night for the Portugal international.
But he was on the receiving end of a chokehold from Emanuel “Mad Dog” Pogatetz, who appeared to grab the 36-year-old by the neck during the showdown.
Pogatetz was already loathed at the Theatre of Dreams following a brutal tackle on Rodrigo Possebon in a Carling Cup showdown earlier in the season.
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“But nothing ever happens.”
Tensions boiled over at half time, with Ronaldo going out of his way to talk to Pogatetz in the tunnel.
Players from both sides were then forced to intervene to stop the pair coming to blows.
But Ronaldo and United had the last laugh by claiming victory, while they’d late go on to win the league and reach the Champions League final in the same season.
Now, as Ronaldo gears up to face Middlesbrough again, the two teams are certainly in different positions than they were over a decade ago.
The FA Cup represents United’s best chance of winning a trophy this term, with the league already out of their sights.
They remain in the Champions League, too, but their lacklustre performances suggest they’re not good enough to claim the prize.
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, were in the Premier League as recently as 2017.
But they, like United, are no longer the club they were.
Boro currently sit seventh in the Championship table, 13 points behind Fulham at the summit.
But they could still secure a play-off place, especially as they have a game in hand on West Brom.
Meanwhile, former United striker Alan Smith believes Ronaldo needs to step up and help the club’s younger players as they look to turn their campaign around.
“I think the difficulty going to Man Utd is that people feel they have to show how good they are, but I think it’s actually the opposite,” he told Offer Bets.
“You need to show the commitment and the hunger to improve, as he obviously is doing. With young players, you get inconsistency – that’s only natural.
“He will also need the support of experienced players to help him along, and he’s got certain players around him at the club that he needs to look to in order to keep improving, and I’m sure that is what he’s trying to do.
“When Cristiano first came, it took him time to get used to the league – the pace of it, the physicality, getting kicked all the time, that kind of learning curve.
“You’ve always got to try and learn from your experienced players, as there’s a reason that they’ve been around for so long, and they will expect and demand off other people.
“He’s been given a run of games now, and I think that consistency will come now he’s feeling a bit more settled.”