Jose Mourinho was spot on when he said that the world is waiting to watch Real Madrid and Manchester United take on each other in the Last 16 stage of the European Champions League.
Not once, but twice.
First up however, the Madridistas will welcome the Red Devils to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night — with ex-United player Cristiano Ronaldo taking centre-stage — something he no doubt relishes.
We give you a comprehensive tactical analysis for the clash.
There isn’t much when it comes to playing against each other. Nothing that should suggest a trend. The first time they played was in April 1957 and their latest clash was in April 2003.
Out of eight games played, Madrid have won three and lost twice. Three of the matches were draws. While Madrid remain unbeaten at home, they beat United at Old Trafford 3-2 in 2000.
The last time they played, David Beckham came off the bench to score twice, but Brazilian Ronaldo went one better, scoring a hat-trick in Real’s 3-4 loss.
Real still have a Ronaldo in their side…
KEY PLAYER BATTLES
Xabi Alonso vs Michael Carrick: The midfield maestros will have a much larger role to play than many believe. While fleet-footed attackers pound forward, it’ll be these two who pick up the scraps and dictate the tempo. Carrick is calmness personified, while Alonso is the perfectionist with a fierce competitive streak.
Sergio Ramos vs Wayne Rooney: Ramos is rash, but on his day, he can be a stalwart in defence. Rooney however, is the man United look to when the going gets tough. And with Robin van Persie ahead of him, he can do what he wants without worrying about hitting the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs the defence: No one in specific for Ronaldo. A collective unit is the only thing which can stop him. Single out a man with him and you’re in trouble. Stifle him, and he may still score. You need brilliant teamwork, and… luck.
Karim Benzema vs Jonny Evans: This one’s going to be good. We think Evans will start, considering how solid he’s been at the back. But one of Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic will need to be sacrificed. Benzema will find it hard against a player who comes up against top EPL opposition every week.
Raphael Varane vs Robin van Persie: Varane was touted to be a defensive wonderkid, and he’s living up to the billing. Flawless against Barcelona in the Spanish Cup, he should make the lineup ahead of Pepe and harangue RVP with his marking and fearless tackling. But the Dutchman is sheer class, and should be able to win via experience.
Real Madrid will rely on a fluid 4-2-3-1, especially with their attackers buzzing around and interchanging in the gaps. Ronaldo, if he finds things hard against Antonio Valencia and Rafael, will shift to the centre or on the right, where Patrice Evra awaits.
Madrid’s attackers are all multi-skilled — with Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Jose Callejon are capable of playing off the strength of Benzema. Ozil and Di Maria are left-footed while Ronaldo can score from anywhere. This allows the midfield duo of Alonso and Sami Khedira to keep the gaps plugged in the middle.
With United, Alex Ferguson may opt for a more rigid 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2. He deployed an attacking 4-2-4 against Everton, but this is away to Madrid and he’d rather keep a clean-sheet than go gung-ho. There will be clamour to take the match to Madrid, but Ferguson will be careful.
Shinji Kagawa/Anderson and Tom Cleverley will be the two centre-midfielders playing just ahead of Carrick, while Valencia/Nani take to the right wing. Rooney and RVP will be up front, with the former dropping to left occasionally.
Real Madrid are 16 points behind Barcelona in the league. United have a 12-point lead at the top of the table.
Real Madrid’s last 10 league games say: L-W-W-D-L-W-D-W-W-L
United’s form guide is very clean: W-D-W-W-W-W-D-W-W-W
Ferguson has admitted that Jose Mourinho is cleverer than him when it comes to mind-games. Both managers have just shown respect to each other prior to the fixture, and there remains nothing meaty to spark the battle of words.
Mourinho has a brilliant record against Ferguson. Throughout his career, he has lost to United only twice in 14 encounters.
But once we have the first game’s result, words will certainly be spoken.
Till then, just rue the fact that this is not the Champions League final.
Kick-off is at 1:15 AM on 13th night (technically 14th early morning)