Do you ever get the feeling that something is meant to be? I remember in ’99, on the way to the treble, the run of events that seemed to conspire to us being victorious. The penalty save off Bergkamp in the FA Cup semi, Giggs’ goal in the same fixture, Keane’s performance in Juventus, Bayern hitting the post… fate seemed to have ordained United as winners that year. I’m getting the same feeling again.
The past few weeks have seen United’s squad return to full fitness. Anderson has even managed to get game time! Carrick is in the form of his life, Van Persie scores ‘when he wants’, Rooney looks like he’s back in love with the game and our rivals are gifting us points. Add to this the recent run of fixtures that saw us face two players who have caused us great problems over the past season or two – Everton and Fellaini; Tottenham and Bale.
Why do these games have any impact on our season so far? Why, in fact, would they have any impact on the fixture at Real tomorrow? Well, they’ve given Phil Jones an opportunity to develop his man marking skills and to engage with the role he’s likely to be given at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Fellaini is a long way off being the standard of Ronaldo and Bale, whilst not as far away, isn’t in the same class – yet – but it has given Jones very recent experience of what you could dub a holding midfield free-role. A free role in the sense that he’s free to follow Ronaldo all over the Spanish turf of Madrid.
Who would have thought that when Jones signed for United he would be one of, if not the, first names on the team sheet for a fixture of this magnitude? Of course, I could be wrong, but I think it’s generally accepted that Jones is going to be marshalling the former Old Trafford favourite for as long as possible.
Where does this leave the rest of the team’s selection? De Gea is looking better and better with each and every game that passes and will welcome an opportunity to remind Spanish selectors of his current form. Rafael is evolving into potentially a real United legend with his no nonsense approach to the game and desire to win so his spot is nigh on guaranteed. Evra will fill the left back berth whilst I’m expecting Ferdinand and Vidic to pair up in the middle. Evans may find himself a starting spot but for a match of this size I fully expect to see Ferguson utilise the experience of Ferdinand and Vidic.
If Jones, as I’ve predicted, does start then his partner in midfield is likely to be England’s answer to Xavi or Alonso, Michael Carrick. The difficult prediction is who plays in front of them? Will Ferguson play two wingers? I’m not convinced he will if Jones is marshalling Ronaldo as this would leave Carrick brutally exposed in the middle. I’m anticipating Kagawa, Rooney and maybe Welbeck to play as a rotating three behind Van Persie.
What They’ve Said
Ferdinand has been quoted as saying “It’s obviously going to be an emotional night for Ronaldo and a great night for him too, but hopefully it gets too emotional for him. Ferdinand continued with “We’ve had a few texts, but when you get into a situation like this when you’re coming up against a friend, all the texts and the conversations go to one side and you don’t really speak until you actually get the game over and done with.”
Mind games fan, Mourniho, has been quite tame so far. He’s been very complimentary to United and Ferguson (in the knowledge that Fergie is going to have a very loud say in his successor?!) and has claimed that this is the fixture that “the world has been waiting for.” Like him, love him or loath him. Who can argue with that statement? Two of the biggest giants on the European stage; steeped in history, drowning in silverware and graced by players of the ilk the world has never seen before – it has all the makings of an absolute classic.
Real Madrid vs. Manchester United, Ronaldo vs. Jones, Fergie vs. Mourniho, Alsono vs. Carrick, RvP vs. Ramos, Benzema vs.Vidic… the mouth waters.
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