Old Trafford, Manchester
March 5, 2013; 19:45 GMT
You could be forgiven if you thought that everything today is either red or white. Finally its here. Manchester United v Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo’s first appearance at Old Trafford after leaving for Real Madrid. Ryan Giggs’ 1000th football match. The most successful coach in modern football v the man expected to replace him at the top. United in pursuit of another treble. Real Madrid desperate for La Decima. You can pick a multitude of themes from the most glamorous encounter in European football so far this season. We pick the tactics and the way both teams would approach each other in this decisive clash at the Theatre of Dreams.
Team News and Tactical Brief
This one is perhaps Ferguson’s biggest test of the season, getting the line ups, formations and tactics spot on is a herculean task but United can’t afford to slip-up. At the back Evra and Rafael are nailed on to start as the fullbacks, Rio Ferdinand didn’t feature over the weekend hence the veteran Englishman is more than likely to start and it could yet again be Jonny Evans partnering him in central defense. But Vidic might sneek in, depending on his conditioning. At the heart of midfield, the Carrick-Cleverley axis is set to be deployed since Jones has been ruled out for this one.
Now at the wings things get a bit tricky. Nani could feature keeping his recent form in mind and also the fact that he was rested over the weekend. Danny Welbeck too looks good to start as the young Mancunian was the stand out performer in the first leg. RVP will definitely lead the line and Wayne Rooney will play in the hole and link the midfield with attack.
Shinji Kagawa who scored a delightful hat trick at the weekend could also come in the reckoning which could mean shunting Rooney to one of the wings in place of either Welbeck or Nani and playing Kagawa in the hole. Ryan Giggs is in line to play his 1000th game and could also feature but mostly as an impact substitute if the need be.
United would look to sit deep and not hold a high line against Madrid’s brilliant frontline. On the offensive front, most of United’s attack would spawn from the flanks as the Red Devils look to get behind the defense and whip in dangerous balls into the Real box. Wayne Rooney must ensure that Xabi Alonso doesn’t get much time on the ball as the Spaniard can hurt the United backline with his range of passing. Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly the biggest threat and one presumes that the Portuguese will be double teamed at every opportunity.
Probable Staring Line-up (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Rooney, Cleverley, Carrick, Welbeck; Kagawa; Van Persie
Jose Mourinho has always been sure of his defensive line-up but the exquisite performances of Rafael Varane will mean that the Frenchman will be awarded with another starting berth alongside Sergio Ramos in central defense. Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arbeloa will start on the flanks. Although Iker Casillas has travelled with the squad, he has not yet resumed full training and will give way to Diego Lopez. Ramos and Varane will be entrusted with the task of keeping Van Persie at bay.
Against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey and the La Liga last week, Jose Mourinho introduced Pepe in the central midfield adding more bite and strength to it. With Real Madrid’s striker Higuain and Benzema looking out of form, it may not be a surprise if Mourinho plays a triple pivot of Khedira, Alonso and Pepe with Ozil, Di Maria and Ronaldo playing upfront.
This would mean Pepe would be responsible for all the dirty work enabling Khedira to push forward at every opportunity and liberating Xabi Alonso to ping balls at will to the flanks. With Mesut Ozil moving in between the lines, the central defense could be troubled in case Real Madrid play without a striker. Mourinho’s men will dominate in the midfield with greater bodies in case United’s central defenders stay back and in case they move towards Ozil to mark, it would create spaces behind them for Ronaldo and Di Maria to attack.
In the first leg, Rafael was skinned by Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria, with Coentrao having all the license in the world to move forward dragging Wayne Rooney with him. Mourinho may go with the same tactics. With Pepe being the extra man in midfield, Coentrao may move forward with Pepe covering for him, enabling Ronaldo to move to the centre and thus creating chances to score. Coentrao is also a decent striker of the ball and De Gea can attest to that, giving Madrid the required width in the final third.
The biggest chink in Madrid’s armour is their inability to cope with dead ball situations. Danny Welbeck scored too easy a goal in the first leg and this is where Real Madrid should be more careful. With Barcelona having virtually no aerial threat barring Puyol, they had no problems dealing with them. But, Manchester United have too many players capable of converting such chances. Ramos and Varane may have a busy night dealing with the aerial balls and set-pieces.
It is no secret that Real’s biggest asset is pace and their usage of space on the field. There are more dangerous without the ball than with it and if Manchester United decided to bring the game to Real, it can directly play into the hands of the visiting team.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-2-1): Lopez; Arbeloa, Varane, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira, Pepe; Ozil, Di Maria; Ronaldo
Player to Watch Out For
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
This is the stadium where Cristiano Ronaldo became the superstar he is today. Undoubtedly he is still remembered with great fondness and the chants of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ are still heard from the Stretford End. His tremendous headed goal rightly grabbed all the headlines in the first leg and the Portuguese captain will look forward to making his mark at his previous home again.
Ryan Giggs ( Manchester United)
While the focus may be entirely on Ronaldo’s homecoming, Ryan Giggs’ extra-ordinary milestone is too big to be snubbed. In what will he be his 1000 game for club and country, a career filled with the greatest of moments, the Welshman may not be a starter but will probably make his appearance as a substitute adding more excitement to this encounter.
Even Real Madrid fans were gracious to applaud the great man and this is what the Welshman had to say of the rousing ovation he got at the Bernabéu. “It was great for me and I thank the Real Madrid fans for the welcome they gave me. Going onto the pitch at a place like the Bernabéu and being clapped by the home fans is something special.’’ Undoubtedly, a bigger reception awaits him at Old Trafford.
Manchester United 2 – 2 Real Madrid
There is hardly any doubt that there will be goals in this game. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted in his press conference that this would an exciting game while Jose Mourinho went further ahead and exclaimed that ‘the world would stop for this game.’ A 2-2 draw looks like a safe prediction with Real Madrid edging through on away goals.
Blast from the Past