After employing the destructive Phil Jones to man-mark Cristiano Ronaldo in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Bernabéu, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will consider even more brutal means when his former player returns to Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
"I’ve got a plan. It’s called a machete,” Ferguson joked. "Plan B is the machine gun!”
The Real Madrid forward, 28, appears at Manchester United for the first time since departing for the Bernabéu for £80 million in 2009 in this week’s second leg, with the score finely poised at 1-1 following the meeting in the Spanish capital three weeks ago.
The Portuguese, who the United manager rates as one of the best players he has worked with, scored Real’s equaliser in the home leg, but Ferguson was ultimately satisfied with the way Jones and Rafael coped with the threat.
He said of his former player: "He’ll get a good reception. All our former players who come back, who’ve been great players, get a good reception. I see that all the time and at the start of the game he’ll get that.
"He’s mature now. He’s 28 and he’s at the peak of his career. From 28 to 32, with the fitness he’s got — he never misses a game and he’s never injured — you expect him to play at his peak until 32 or 33 easily.
"I don’t think there’s anything – as far as I’m aware – that would encourage me to think he would come back here. I don’t think there’s anything in that at all. He’s got two years left on his contract. It could be to do with the fact that negotiations are going on for a new contract. I think it’s false hope.”
Although admitting he was highly impressed when he was there in person to watch Real Madrid's 3-1 midweek victory over Barcelona in the Spanish Cup, which they followed up with another ‘Clásico’ win Saturday – this time 2-1 in La Liga – Ferguson is confident about his own team’s strengths.
"On Tuesday their counter-attacking was terrific,” he added. "We’re aware of that and our preparation has to include that, obviously, but I think we’ll score.
"I don’t think they’ll reach that height this Tuesday. I think it was a one-off performance. They were brilliant. They’ll still play well and we’ll have to make sure we play well, but the other night they really hit the heights.”
Ferguson does not believe that manager Jose Mourinho, regularly considered a potential replacement for the veteran Scot at Old Trafford, will leave Madrid this summer. "I think he’s done a great job there, would you really want to let a good coach like that go? I don’t think [Madrid president Florentino] Perez would want that.”
The United manager says he would happily face Paris St-Germain in this year’s final but thinks the Champions League is wide open.
"It’s a really hard tournament this year,” he said. "You can’t discount Barcelona, AC Milan’s performance against them was fantastic, but there’s Real Madrid, ourselves, Bayern Munich, Dortmund. B----- hell, there are a lot of good teams this year.”