The highest profile clash of the Champions Knockout stage begins at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Manchester United will try to achieve what they usually can’t – a good result against Real Madrid.
It’s not just United’s history with matches in Spain and against Real. Alex Ferguson has trouble facing Jose Mourinho, although in their most recent encounter, when Mourinho was still with Inter, Ferguson had the upper hand. In 14 encounters between the two managers, Manchester United have come out as the winners only twice.
And they’re not heading into Madrid as favorites, or even looking for a win. A draw is something United will be plenty happy with, despite not really used to dropping 3 points, at home or away, this season in the Premier League. Their Champions League performances haven’t been much to warrant compliments or positive discussion, but they got the job done with minimum effort in a rather easy group. They head to Madrid calm about their status in the league, which should make this match a whole of a lot more easier than if Manchester City were closer to them.
The key? Containing Cristiano Ronaldo, but not letting Mesut Ozil have his way on the pitch. This means probably Patrice Evra having to play a bit further from where he’s comfortable with, which should give an opportunity to Karim Benzema to exploit the wide open spaces. It’s probably going to be up to Michael Carrick to hold down the midfield and help a defense that has been extremely prone to counter attacking this season. Up front, there’s much less to worry about, and we’ll probably see Wayne Rooney doing a lot of tactical work in the middle, while Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie will be incharge of remaining as targets for long balls and counters.
For Real Madrid, this is the first half of the fight to make something out of this season, and even more so, for Jose Mourinho to save his legacy with Real Madrid. Luka Modric will be on the pitch instead of the injured Angel Di Maria, but what should worry Mourinho more than anything is Pepe and Sergio Ramos, and their tendency to make mistakes when rushing out to challenge players without noticing who is covering them. A disciplined defense means Xabi Alonso can be busy on the attacking side of things, which makes a world of difference.
Prediction – At home and generally in the clash, Real Madrid are the favorites. Cristiano Ronaldo is always worth a goal or two, but there are ways to defend. The question will be about tactical surprises, but mostly about what midfield performs better and makes himself more useful. Real have the edge here, but only slightly. Real Madrid to win.
Speculated Lineups – Real Madrid – Diego Lopez; Coentrao, Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa; Alonso, Khedira, Modric, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema. Manchester United – De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley, Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney; Van Persie.