Real host United in the first leg of the most anticipated last 16 tie
The world’s richest football clubs Real Madrid and Manchester United meet on Wednesday (1.15 a.m. IST, Thursday) here in a Champions League last 16 first-leg tie described by Jose Mourinho as “the match the world is waiting for”.
Alex Ferguson takes his United side to the Spanish capital after extending their lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points with Sunday’s 2-0 win at home to Everton.
The meeting also marks the latest instalment in the Ferguson-Mourinho duel with the Scot emerging triumphant last time the pair locked horns as United disptached Mourinho’s former employers Inter Milan 2-0 on aggregate in 2008-2009.
Sittingsixteen points behind Barcelona in La Liga, only the delivery of a tenth Champions League title to the famous old club would be enough to appease his critics in the Spanish capital.
Mourinho’s reign at Madrid has been a tumultuous one this season, with a series of dressing room disputes between the coach and his players.
However, Sergio Ramos feels the tension in the Madrid camp has been overplayed and that his team are motivated for the United game. Despite the problems Madrid are enjoying some good form, losing only once in twelve outings in all competitions, and it is two years since they lost a Champions League game at the Santiago Bernabeu when Barcelona were the victors.
Cristiano Ronaldo will face his old club on the back of another hat-trick and his attacking partner Gonzalo Higuain is convinced their side can beat United in the Bernabeu.
“With our individual quality and counter-attacking play we can do a lot of damage to United. We have to keep it solid at the back and find our winning mentality and team spirit,” he said.
Madrid are almost at full strength and the inclusion or not of Portuguese centre-half Pepe, who has recovered from an ankle injury, is Mourinho’s big dilemma. French youngster Raphael Varane or the experienced Ricardo Carvalho are the alternatives to partner Ramos in the centre of defence.
The return of Xabi Alonso in midfield will be key for Real.
United, who are undefeated in fourteen games, rested Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa against Everton. Ferdinand said that former team-mate Ronaldo is the key man to stop.
“You get as many people around the ball when he’s got it as possible, but Madrid are that good a side you have to make sure you’re set up right and that your team are in good positions all over the pitch to defend.”AFP