Cristiano Ronaldo flew to Skopje with the rest of the Real Madrid squad on Monday. Whether he'll play or not against Manchester United is unknown. He's had very few training sessions with the team, though there's no doubt he's done a lot of work on his own. Indeed, he'd been in Madrid for days, putting the hard yards in all by himself, away from Valdebebas. Why didn't he go and train there? Well, to play hard to get; there can be no other explanation. To keep up his sulk and leave it until the last moment to let it be established that A Bola's front page was a lot of hot air that he himself prompted. And I'm saying this because I know so. That same day in June, there were attempts to feed it to us too, I can now confess. I gave no credence to it, and it goes without saying I'm happy I didn't.
Bale and Benzema only making Cristiano absence more keenly felt
Anyway, Cristiano has travelled to the Macedonian capital, and now begins the process of regaining love lost. I don't know if he'll feature for a bit, a lot or not at all. Either way, his return is keenly awaited, particularly given how little Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have done in his absence. One blocks Marco Asensio's path to the XI, the other has caused Álvaro Morata to seek pastures new. More must be expected of both; more than just being on hand for a selfie with Cristiano. They are fine footballers, of course; but the gap between that and being a worthy 'untouchable' in this Real team is one that they haven't definitively bridged. Tonight's game, with José Mourinho in the opposite corner and the UEFA Super Cup up for grabs, is an opportunity for them to show what they're made of.
Super Cup a chance to see what 2017/18 United have got
So, it's Mourinho on the rival bench. He's softened his approach, I'm glad to see. His Europa League win rescued what would have been a poor first year at United, who came sixth in the league. That trophy (which Celta Vigo were a whisker away from denying them in the semis), puts United in the Champions League and is their ticket to today's European curtain-raiser, where they can give debuts to marquee signings. They've recruited defender Victor Lindelöf (who, by the way, was royally shown up by Theo Hernández in the US), anchorman Nemanja Matic, who can free up Paul Pogba to push forward, and striker Romelu Lukaku. In all, that's 160 million euros. Today, we'll get a first proper taste of what they've got, while we'll also find out Cristiano's fitness, and if Bale and Benzema get their act together.