UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE (Round of 16)
VENUE – Santiago Bernabau (Capacity – 75,811)
KO – 1945 GMT
Referee – Felix Byrch (Germany)
The GLAMOUR tie. THE PERFECT MATCH. Football lovers claim that is the tie that everyone wanted albeit a tad early. Two of the biggest football clubs in the world go head to head for a position in the Quarter finals of Europe elite club competition. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho lock horns one more time on the biggest stage. Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the place which set him on the way to the greatness he has achieved in his career. The Portuguese has always maintained Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United will always have a place in his heart. On the pitch though, neither Ronaldo nor any of his former colleagues will give an inch to each other. This tie is more than just an elimination round to progress to the next stage of the Champions League. There are many sub plots to tie as well. For instance, the relationship between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho is one which of great importance. Football pundits all around the world believe that Mourinho is the rightful successor to Ferguson at United’s helm. In a way this might be an audition for the Portuguese manager for the hotseat at Old Trafford. Another Portuguese whose return will probably hog more of the headlines is Cristiano Ronaldo. The manager loved him and the fans adored him. It was sad for the fans when he left but there will be no emotions at play on the pitch. United fans still love him but they love United more and will want Ronaldo to enjoy a happy return to Old Trafford and a sad exit from the Theatre of Dreams. From a neutral prospective this is a mouth watering tie. Manchester United are on the top of their game whilst Real Madrid have everything to play for in Europe. This tie has rarely disappointed. The last match between the two sides ended in a pulsating 4-3 win for Manchester United with the Spanish side going through on aggregate. All in all this promises to be an exciting match, which will capture the imagination of the football universe.
The reigning Spanish Champions have practically relinquished their league title to Barcelona this season. With 23 matches played they are already 16 points behind the leaders, Barcelona. Given the form that the Catalans are in at the moments it seems unlikely that Mourinho’s men will be able to claw back the deficit. The dismal league performance means that the only realistic hopes that the club has of winning a trophy this season are the cups i.e. the Copa Dey Rel and the Champions League. In the Copa Dey Rel they are up against their arch rivals Barcelona in the semi finals with the first leg tied at 1-1. They focus their attention to the Champions League and Manchester United stand in their way. Crisitiano Ronaldo lines up to face his former employers and hoping to end up on the winning side. The Portuguese superstar, who will be at the centre of all attention on the pitch and off it has been in scintillating form in 2013. His hat-trick against Sevilla was of pure class. Jose Mourinho is having a tough time this season with player revolts, fans unrest and fractured relationship with club President Perez. His reign at Madrid might end at the end of the season but elimination against Manchester United might prompt an earlier exit. On the attacking front he hardly has any problems with the form of Ronaldo plus Benzema and Ozil combining brilliantly. Angel di Maria is having a mixed season but is capable of turning a match on its head. Defense is where the problem for the manager lies. Iker Casillas is out of the first leg with a fractured hand and may not return for the second leg either. Arbeloa is not having the best of season while Pepe has just returned from injury. They will have to contend with the striker force of Rooney and Persie. Unlike Madrid though the English side does not have a player of the caliber of Ronaldo meaning Mourinho does not have to make special plans for any particular player. Jose Mourinho’s job may depend on the outcome of the tie and he will want to keep his fate in his own hands at the end of the tie at Old Trafford.
Sir Alex Ferguson always maintains that he values the league title over the Champions League but winning the trophy only twice in his 26 years in charge always hurts. Past is the past though and Ferguson will look to improve on that record this season. The path is not easy though with Mourinho and his Galaticos standing in the way. Sunday’s win against Everton meant that the gap at the top of the table is 12 points with only 12 games to go. United could concentrate on the European commitments and take it easy in the league. Real Madrid is one of the biggest clubs in the world and everyone at the club will be ready for them. Ronaldo will hog most of the headlines but Ferguson will ensure that emotions do not take over the job in hand. The Spanish champions may not be in the best of form but Ferguson will know that with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil and others in the team they will be very hard to beat. The English side has the advantage of being at home in the second leg of this tie but an away goal is priceless in the competition. Early season’s defensive problems seem to have vanished away and it coincides with the return of Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian centre back has been brilliant since returning from injury and he will need to be at his very best against Madrid. David De Gea, who has been criticized albeit unfairly for his performances at United seems to have picked up the pace and given Ronaldo’s brilliance at set pieces, the Spaniard will need to concentrate more than usual to keep the Portuguese and his teammates at bay. The midfield battle is where the tie will probably be won and Ferguson will expect Carrick to carry his brilliant form to Europe with Cleverly and Anderson playing supporting roles. A 3rd European title is still a distant dream for Ferguson but the road to Wembley begins on Wednesday.
Real Madrid – The league title is all but relinquished by Real Madrid and European success seems to be the only trophy they can practically target. Keeping that in mind Mourinho took off his star man, Cristiano Ronaldo at the hour mark against Sevilla on Saturday. The Portuguese superstar had already done the damage till then i.e. scoring a hat-trick. The Spanish side has an extra day of rest as compared to the English side who played on Sunday evening. As this is a home game Mourinho will put out a very attacking side to gain an advantage in the tie. Iker Casillas is out with a fractured hand and Diego Lopez will take his place between the sticks for the team. The back four of the club has an Iberian feel to it with Arbeloa starting on the right wing and Portuguese Fabio Contreao starting on the left wing back position. The Spanish- Portuguese continues in the centre of defense with Pepe and Sergio Ramos taking command. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso are the midfield generals that Mourinho trust, to not only protect the back four but also be the engine behind the strike force. Benzema leads the forward line with Ronaldo and di Maria on the wings. Mezut Ozil provides the creative force the forwards. The quartet constantly keep interchanging positions which makes it extremely difficult for the opposition defenders to track them.
Manchester United – With Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid waiting in the wings many expected Sir Alex Ferguson to put out a slightly weaker side on Sunday against Everton. That was definitely not the case as Ferguson sent a full strength squad to play Everton which included the likes of Persie and Rooney playing the whole 90 minutes. The two front men will be definite starters for the match. Ferguson usually like the 4-4-2 attacking formation but this is an away European match and tactics have been different for those. The Scot might go for a rigid 4-5-1 formation or a fluid 4-3-3 formation. The personnel will more or less be the same for the formations. Starting from the back, David De Gea will definitely start in goal. Evans has just returned from injury and even though he has been the best defender this season the manager may opt for the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership. Rafael da Silva will have a tough job on his hands as he will have to contend with Ronaldo on the right while Evra will start on the left full back position. Carrick was supposed to be rested for the Sunday game but Jones picked up a knock which meant the former had to play for around half an hour of the match. Even so Carrick may partners Tom Cleverly and Anderson in the United central midfield to counter the threat of the Madrid frontline. Valencia and Rooney may start on the wings with Persie taking his place in the centre.
Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo – The ex-Manchester United man has been sensational for Real Madrid since joining the club. He has an incredible 182 goals in 180 games for Madrid. That is a sensational record. He has taken his game to a different level since leaving Manchester United. The United fans still adore him but every emotion will be thrown out of the window when Ronaldo takes the pitch on Wednesday. The Portuguese captain is brilliant with both his feet and is deadly from set pieces. His heading abilities combined and he could destroy any opposition. Sevilla were on the end of a Ronaldo masterclass at the weekend. The winger completed a hat-trick in 33 minutes as Real surged home with a 4-1 win. The pick of the goals was the trademark Ronaldo freekick. Manchester United will have to make special plans for their former star as he in a deadly killer form at the moment.
Manchester United – Robin van Persie– The 22 million pound signing from Arsenal has done wonders at his new club. Roberto Mancini was desperate to sign the Dutchman but the striker chose United above City and the difference is quite clear. He has scored 19 goals in the league and is proving everyone wrong who said he is just a one season wonder. He has combined extremely well with the last year’s top scorer for the club, Wayne Rooney. The partnership is getting better with every game and it is a testament to the abilities of Persie as to how easily he has fit into the United team. He will need to be at his very best against Real Madrid with the likes of Pepe and Carvalho hanging around the Madrid goal. Many believed that he might be rested for the Everton game but he played the full 90 minutes but he is only 29 and capable of playing 180 minutes in 3 days.
Written by ABHIMANYU HALAKHANDI
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