Seven years after leaving Manchester United, David Beckham faces the team that turned him into a global star for the first time when AC Milan hosts the three-time winners in the Champions League.
The England midfielder, who never faced United during four seasons at Real Madrid, gets the opportunity during a second loan spell at Milan from the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Milan hosts United on Tuesday as the Champions League resumes after a two-month break, with the eight first-leg matches in the first knockout round split over two weeks.
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"It’s one of the biggest games for me," said Beckham, who won the competition in 1999 with United. "But the most important thing is the team going through and beating United which I hope we do. I don’t think it’ll be a big problem (playing United).
"There are a couple of players not there, but the team is just the same, they’ve got this great team spirit within the squad and that’s definitely not changed."
Beckham left Old Trafford under in cloud in 2003 after 394 appearances in 11 years, with manager Alex Ferguson frustrated by the then-England captain’s celebrity lifestyle.
Ferguson was at the San Siro on Friday to see Beckham’s team end a four-match winless streak by beating Udinese 3-2 and the 68-year-old Scot believes Milan is missing Brazil playmaker Kaka.
"It’s a good time for us to be going to Milan," said Ferguson, whose side lost 3-0 there in 2007. "They played this weekend, they’ve lost Kaka and have a few injuries, whereas we weren’t playing this weekend and we have had a good rest."
Plus United – in Beckham’s words – are "on fire" with Wayne Rooney already netting 23 goals this season, although the Premier League champions are behind Chelsea in the title race.
"I’ve always said that Wayne is one of the best goal scorers in football," the 34-year-old Beckham said of his England teammate. "He’s proving that and he is at a great club like Manchester United."
United will be without defender Nemanja Vidic and midfielder Anderson, with the pair remaining in England as the United squad traveled to Italy on Monday.
Vidic has not played since Dec. 30 because of a nerve problem in his leg, so England captain Rio Ferdinand will probably play alongside Jonny Evans or Wes Brown.
Another of Beckham’s former teams will be in action at the same time Tuesday, with Madrid at French side Lyon. Cristiano Ronaldo, who followed the same path as Beckham by joining Madrid from United last year, says he is obsessed with winning the Champions League.
The Portugal winger’s last match for 2008 winner United was a loss to Barcelona in May’s final. Madrid, however, has failed to reach the quarterfinals since 2004.
"It’s a long time. It’s time to bring that to an end," Ronaldo said. "If Real Madrid can’t beat Lyon then we can’t think about winning the Champions League."
Madrid and Lyon – like all eight teams playing in the last-16 this week – are not top of their domestic divisions.
Wednesday night’s matches see Bayern Munich – second in Germany – host Fiorentina – 11th in Italy – and a meeting of the third-place teams in England and Portugal when Arsenal plays FC Porto.
The Champions League is Arsenal’s most realistic hope of ending a five-year trophy drought, with Arsene Wenger’s teateam struggling for consistency in the Premier League and out of the domestic cups.
The Gunners were beaten finalists in the 2006 Champions League and last season reached the last-four only to be ripped apart by United. They go to the Estadio do Dragao in the first leg having never won there.
"The minimum requirement is not to lose the game and be out of the tie," Wenger said. "A clean sheet will do, but we are a team who will not hide – we want to play. It will be two ties, so let’s be clever and use our experience of the Champions League to take advantage of the fact we play the second leg at home."
Fiorentina goes to a Bayern Munich side on a roll after nine consecutive victories in the Bundesliga that have left it only being kept off top spot by Bayer Leverkusen on goal difference.
Coach Louis van Gaal, however, is concerned that Bayern went behind at home to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday before rallying to win 3-1.
"We made a lot of individual mistakes in defense that we will have to stop against Fiorentina," Van Gaal said. "The order of the whole team also must improve."
Next week the other eight teams remaining in the Champions League play their first legs. On Feb. 23 Olympiakos hosts Bordeaux and Barcelona goes to Stuttgart. The following night, Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho faces former club Chelsea and CSKA Moscow hosts Sevilla.