Manchester United and Real Madrid go head-to-head in the Champions League this evening looking to make it through to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition.
The first leg of the tie finished 1-1 at Bernabeu.
This tie is so difficult to call. Manchester United are at home and against a lot of other teams in the competition I would fancy them to go through.
However, Real Madrid’s main attacking strength comes from hitting teams on the counter-attack.
I can’t see Real not scoring at Old Trafford, they are that dangerous on the counter-attack. The whole team is setup to punish teams when they least expect it and it’s the perfect way off playing in a game like this.
Although Real Madrid are good at playing on the counter-attack their defence is vulnerable and United could expose that vulnerability. Striker Robin van Persie was guilty of missing a few opportunities in the Spanish capital.
If Real give the Dutchman the same amount of chances as he had in the Spanish capital then no doubt he will make more of them. He hasn’t been in top form of late due to a nagging injury and was withdrawn with 30 minutes remaining in United’s 4-0 victory over Norwich at the weekend in order to rest for this clash.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will have a few dilemmas about his team selection ahead of the big game. The veteran boss has a number of issues to sort out.
England striker Wayne Rooney was superb in the victory over the Canaries, but could find himself on the bench against Los Blancos according to some media reports. It would harsh to leave the England international out as he is a big game player and works tirelessly for the team.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson maybe looking at using the quicker Danny Welbeck and Luis Valencia on the United wings to help United defend against those dangerous Real counter-attacks.
Japanese international Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick against Norwich at the weekend and would be difficult leave out. The former-Dortmund star is slowly re-discovering his best form and could line-up in the whole behind Van Persie.
One of the biggest selection headaches the veteran Scot will have is how to replace the injured Phil Jones. The youngster did a sterling job at man-marking former-United ace Cristiano Ronaldo in the first leg, despite the Portuguese star scoring Real’s goal.
Jones’ ankle injury means that Ferguson must find a player that could do a similar job. Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes will all be considered for the role. The other option is to play centre-back Chris Smalling out of position to subdue Ronaldo.
It looks likely that Cleverley will get the role, as playing Smalling out of position would be a big gamble in such a big game. Veteran Welshman Ryan Giggs could also be set for his 1,000 career appearance should he take any part in the game.
Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho has to choose between strikers Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain for the lone striker role. It seems that Higuain could get the nod ahead of the French international.
In goal Diego Lopez is expected to continue in the absence of Real legend Iker Casillas, who returned to training last Thursday after a broken finger.
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Old Trafford as an opposition player for the first time since making the move to the Spanish capital. He was a United hero and is fast gaining the similar sort of adulation at the Bernabeu.
The Portuguese star is bound to receive a hero’s welcome on his old stomping ground. Whether he will be cheered if he helps knock United out of the competition is another matter.
Ronaldo has been heavily linked with a summer move back to Manchester in recent months. His future in Spain is doubt, but nouvre riche French giants PSG seem to be current favourites to sign the Portuguese international, if he does decide to move to pastures new this summer.
This tie is why the European Cup was invented. To pit Europe’s biggest and best teams against each other. This is the sort of occasion that even neutrals, like me can get excited about.
The second leg clash at Old Trafford promises to give football fans all over the world a fantastic spectacle. I just hope that it lives up to its billing, because if it does were in for treat.
Who will come out on top between the two European giants?