What: Champions League – Round of 16
Who: Manchester United (1) vs Real Madrid (1) (first leg score in brackets)
When: Tuesday 5th March, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Ready for the Challenge
Manchester United’s destruction of Norwich City at the weekend was the perfect message that the English league leaders are ready for what will surely be a fiery contest at Old Trafford against Real Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be boosted by the fact that they will have the home advantage in the second leg, but perhaps this will be of little importance given the first leg scoreline and the potent power of their visitors from the south.
Since that night at the Santiago Bernabeu two weeks ago, the Red Devils have won all of their three intervening games. The highlight of their last win against Norwich was marked by a hat-trick scored by Shinji Kagawa, the Japanese midfielder having been below his usual level in recent times. Still, Ferguson believes that his team will face an even better Real Madrid side than the one they last squared off against in Spain.
“I was shocked [by Real Madrid’s performance against Barcelona]”, he explained. “I thought they were magnificent I really did. They were absolutely brilliant and won well with [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Angel] di Maria and [Mesut] Ozil on the counter-attack. But we know that Madrid are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe. That is what we will be up against on Tuesday and that is why our preparations are centered around making sure their counter-attack doesn’t kill us."
Manchester United will be buoyed by the fact that they won the last time they met Real Madrid at home. However, poor defending in that game allowed Real Madrid to qualify 6-5 on aggregate.
Another Giant in Sight
If beating Barcelona on their own turf allowed Real Madrid to qualify for the Copa del Rey final, then winning a second consecutive time against the Catalans in the space of a few days surely gives them a massive boost ahead of this all-important trip to Manchester.
Real Madrid appear to be a better team in recent times, especially since the start of 2013, but it will still require them a great deal of effort to overcome Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams; however qualification would bill them as one of the heavy favourites to win this edition of the Champions League.
Jose Mourinho opted to rest some of his usual starters in the last game against Barcelona, given the unimportance of the result in La Liga. However, his side held their own against a Blaugrana team that seemed desperate to erase the disappointment of the previous Clasico.
The introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo swung momentum in their favour and they were able to win the game thanks to a headed goal from Sergio Ramos, who declared that his team are now confident enough to tackle the match against Manchester United.
“After the two Clasicos we’re going to Manchester believing that we can win, with all due respect to the opponents, who are a great team. It is a very special competition for Real Madrid fans."
This improvement could prove to be meaningless though, as Real Madrid’s record in England is average at best: The Spanish side have won just four out of their twelve games in the country.
Manchester United 2-1 Reading (18/02; FA Cup)
QPR 0-2 (23/02; Premier League)
Manchester United 4-0 Norwich (02/03; Premier League)
Deportivo La Coruna 1-2 Real Madrid (23/02; La Liga)
Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid (26/02; Copa del Rey)
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona (02/03; La Liga)
Manchester United: Phil Jones; Paul Scholes; Darren Fletcher
Real Madrid: Iker Casillas (doubt)
Players to watch
Manchester United – Robin van Persie: The focus was on Kagawa at the weekend against Norwich, but it is no secret that Van Persie remains his side’s most important player, as Ferguson opted to substitute him and allow him to rest against the Canaries. The Dutchman will be very hard to stop.
Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo: Lionel Messi’s fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or was the spark that allowed Ronaldo to challenge himself. The player has been in magnificent form lately and played a huge part in defeating Barcelona in the last two matches. Back at the ground where he made a name for himself, his job will be to make sure his old fans endure a bad night.
Real Madrid’s results in their last two matches cannot pass without notice. However, Barcelona are a team in crisis and even more could be required from Mourinho’s men to qualify here. Manchester United left them with little space to operate during the first leg, but at home the Red Devils could be more carefree with their play and that could backfire as Los Merengues make the best use of these spaces. It will come down to Manchester United’s defence on the night. Real Madrid are not shy of scoring away from home and will probably qualify should that happen. As such, they will need to make most of their chances as there probably won’t be many. Real Madrid to go through. Manchester United 2-2 Real Madrid.
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