MANCHESTER United have identified Cristiano Ronaldo's susceptibility to becoming 'too emotional' on the big occasion as a potential flaw in the Real Madrid forward's armoury ahead of his first encounter with his former club tomorrow.
Ronaldo, who left United for Real Madrid in a world record pounds 80?million transfer in June 2009, is likely to prove the biggest threat to his former club's hopes of progression to the Champions League quarter-finals during the two-leg last-16 tie.
Having scored 182 goals in 179 games for Real, including his twentieth hat-trick as a Madrid player during the 4-1 win against Sevilla on Saturday, the 28-year-old is approaching the United game in the best form of his career.
But with Ronaldo's final game for United - the 2009 Champions League final defeat against Barcelona - proving to be one of his most disappointing performances for the club, the Portuguese forward has shown an inclination to be distracted by the big occasion.
"It is obviously going to be an emotional night for Ronaldo, and a great night for him too, but hopefully it gets too emotional for him," Ferdinand said. "We've had a few texts [between ourselves], but when you get into a situation like this, when you're coming up against a friend, all the texts and the conversations go to one side and you don't really speak until you actually get the game over and done with.
"We are going to have to use all of our experience, courage and ability to make sure that we stop not only Ronaldo, but the other players they have because Real are a great team.
"They have so many other weapons. We could shut Ronaldo down for 90 minutes, but they still have players to hurt us, so we have to be compact and work hard."
Aside from Ronaldo's performance against Barcelona in Rome in 2009, the former United forward has endured other difficult moments on the biggest stage. Having scored in the 2008 final against Chelsea in Moscow, he missed a penalty in the shoot-out before United's eventual victory.
An apparent determination to take the fifth penalty in last summer's Euro 2012 semi-final shoot-out against Spain backfired with Portugal missing too many spot kicks before Ronaldo was due to step up for the 'glory shot' of the final penalty.
In Rome, many at United believed that Ronaldo focused too much on his own performance rather than his role within the team and former United captain Gary Neville echoed Ferdinand's comments by pointing to the potential effects on Ronaldo of the emotional aspect of tomorrow's game.
"I always think there's a weakness in everybody," Neville said. "You just wonder whether this match emotionally might be difficult for him [Ronaldo], seeing all those lads he had such great times with still playing, Rio, Evra, Rooney, Ryan. You're always challenged in football and that will be a new experience for him.
"Maybe the emotion of seeing Sir Alex Ferguson, that red shirt, that stadium, we won't know how he'll deal with it until we see him do it. It's new for him."
United remain in the hunt for three trophies this season after moving 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League with Sunday's 2-0 victory against Everton, and playing Reading in the FA Cup on Monday. Madrid, meanwhile, have abandoned hope of overhauling Barcelona's 16-point lead at the top of La Liga. Barcelona have refused to lend Mourinho a helping hand by rejecting a proposal to play the second league clasico of the season on a Friday night.
Real Madrid face Barca in their last league game before they travel to Old Trafford and Mourinho had wanted to give his players three clear days to recover before the second leg on March 5 but their bitter rivals refused to help. The decision to play at 4pm local time on Saturday March 2, does at least spare his players a 10pm Saturday kick-off.
Mourinho says he has been let down by his players' lack of professionalism this season. He told ITV: "What I felt in my team was a difference of ambition and commitment in relation to last season. We didn't react very well to the success of last season. We played our best game in the Super Cup against Barca but we have played our worst in matches that we should have won."