Cristiano Ronaldo will hope for better individual fortunes when Manchester United visit Leeds United in Sunday’s highly-anticipated Premier League clash. The Red Devils visit a full-capacity Elland Road in the top-flight for the first time since October 2003 this weekend.
United played out a dull 0-0 affair with Marcelo Biela’s side on the road last season, but Sunday should showcase an entirely different spectacle on what’s bound to be a hostile afternoon in West Yorkshire.
Ronaldo is expected to start, with Edinson Cavani likely still absent, and he would break a Premier League record in doing so.
If the 37-year-old features, it would be the longest-ever gap between a player facing the same team in the competition at 18 years and 125 days.
And given how his last, and only, game against Leeds went, he probably hasn’t missed playing at Elland Road whatsoever.
United faced disappointment in the 2003/04 season, failing to retain their Premier League crown as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles thrived.
But they earned bragging rights at Leeds in October, with Roy Keane heading in the decisive goal Gary Neville’s cross on 81 minutes in a 1-0 win.
Sir Alex Ferguson was expected to rest Ronaldo, but an injury to Ryan Giggs forced the Scotsman to throw the then-18-year-old winger into the fray just two months after he arrived in England from Sporting Lisbon.
And it didn’t take long for the hostile home crowd to make their feelings of the tricky Portuguese teenager clear.
Ronaldo riled up the Leeds faithful after pursuing a Mikael Silvestre through ball and going down inside the penalty area under pressure from Gary Kelly just five minutes in.
But referee Graham Poll dismissed his passionate claims before booking him on 14 minutes later for simulation.
Ronaldo had gone to the ground after another tussle with Kelly, which Poll deemed as a dive, much to the anger of the Leeds players and fans.
He faced further frustration before goal in the 62nd minute, striking the post with a fierce effort before a 25-yard effort narrowly whizzed past the post, prompting further jeers from the home crowd.
Ronaldo returns to Elland Road as one of the greatest footballers to have ever graced the beautiful game.
And while, now 37, he’s in the twilight of his glistening career, he still arrives as one of Europe’s top strikers.
Ronaldo has scored 15 goals in all competitions this season and could have a field day against Bielsa’s leaky backline in what could be an open game.
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