Cristiano Ronaldo has warned Liverpool they will be facing a different beast to Real Madrid sides of the past when they visit Anfield in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Oct. 22.
The prolific Los Blancos star also expressed his regret at the team selling creative winger Angel Di Maria to former club Manchester United, but vowed that Madrid will move on without the £60 million star.
Ronaldo was speaking after the draw for the Champions League group stage in Monaco, where he collected the European Player of the Season award. The one-time United talisman urged Liverpool not to expect a repeat of the 4-0 win over Madrid at Anfield in 2009, per Mirror writer Martin Lipton:
I know what happened the last time Real played Liverpool, but I was not there then. Now it’s different. Every game has a different story. We are a different team, with a different coach.
The free-scoring Portuguese forward also knows to expect a hostile reception when he walks out at Anfield, the kind of intimidating welcome reserved for any former or current United player.
However, Ronaldo insists he's ready to deal with the famous Anfield atmosphere:
If I was going back to Old Trafford, the reception from the fans would be amazing for me. Going to Liverpool will be very different – wow!
Of course I know that it’s a very difficult place to go, although I won there a few times with United.
The cheeky reference to his winning times at United will certainly irk the Liverpool faithful. It's a not-so-subtle reminder that Ronaldo has usually had the edge over Liverpool throughout his career.
United won three Premier League titles with Ronaldo as their main source of goals. The last of those titles came in the 2008-09 season when the Red Devils edged out a powerful Liverpool team.
There's no doubt the Ronaldo-led Madrid, looking to defend the Champions League trophy won last season, represent a major challenge for a Liverpool squad returning to the competition for the first time since 2009.
Los Blancos are brimming with some of the best attacking talent in the game. Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid also boast Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez.
That makes them an imposing foe for Anfield boss Brendan Rodgers. However, Rodgers is already looking forward to pitting his wits against veteran Madrid chief Carlo Ancelotti, per Daily Mail reporter Sami Mokbel:
I’m already thinking of Anfield on that night. But there are two other good teams in it along with us.
To be back in it again, no matter who we were going to play, it was always going to be exciting. But to have Real Madrid — last season’s champions — in your group is going to be special. It’s a tough group but we’ll really look forward to the challenge of getting out of the group.
One player Rodgers won't have to worry about is Di Maria. The mercurial Argentine international was sold to Liverpool's bitter foe United for £59.7 million.
Ronaldo offered some praise for the outgoing 26-year-old, while also ruing his loss, per a Press Association report cited by ESPN FC:
I wish the best to him, he deserves it, he's a fantastic player, he's going to do well at Manchester United. And I said to him 'Number seven is a big responsibility', but I think he will be able to take that shirt because he's a fantastic player.
Personally, it's a shame for me because I liked Di Maria, a very important player for us as was Xabi Alonso (who is understood to be on the verge of joining Bayern Munich). They are situations that happen in football, players come and players go.
Di Maria's loss is likely to be felt after he provided 22 assists last season, per WhoScored.com. He was a prolific supply line for the Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema trio.
However, it's not as if Madrid are short of creative options. New boys Rodriguez and Toni Kroos join players such as Luka Modric and Isco as the men likely to supply Ronaldo this term.
Will Ronaldo inspire a Madrid win at Anfield?
Rodgers will certainly know that even without Di Maria, Madrid remain a major threat in Europe's premier club competition. The game at Anfield will be a good barometer of how well equipped this Liverpool squad is for its return to the continent's big table.
For Los Blancos, this will likely be their toughest group match. They've also been pitted with FC Basel and Ludogorets, two games they'll be expected to win in Group B.
Don't bet against Ronaldo tormenting Liverpool again.