Tuesday night will be match day eight in the UEFA Champions League, featuring one of the most anticipated games in the competition this year. Following a breathless encounter in the Spanish capital that ended in a 1-1 draw, there is still nothing to separate Manchester United and Real Madrid as they go into their last-16 second leg game at the Theatre of Dreams. With both teams desperate to win, it really is all to play for.
Sir Alex’s team are in good shape heading into the tie. Over the weekend the Reds avenged their last Premier League defeat back in November with a 4-0 victory over Norwich, putting the side in a position of confidence and positivity ahead of their European game. After last years lackluster performance in the Champions League, Fergie’s side have a lot to prove in Europe. And where better to show the world what they are made of than at the home of English football with the final being held at Wembley – another incentive to beat ‘Los Blancos’ tomorrow night.
However, claiming victory over Real Madrid won’t be an easy job, but it is a job Manchester United are very capable of doing. One thing definitely in the Reds favour is the atmosphere that will be created at Old Trafford, with Ferguson himself predicting it to be, “electric”. With the long-awaited return of a certain Portuguese striker, along with the possibility of Ryan Giggs becoming only the third British outfield player to reach the 1,000 game mark, United’s fans will be anything but subdued.
Unfortunately Jones is very doubtful due to an ankle injury. This means that there is a chance for Tom Cleverly to come into the side. However he will be in contention with the likes of Shinji Kagawa, who impressed against Norwich after his excellent Premier League hat-trick. Fletcher (Chronic Bowel Condition) and Scholes (knee injury) are still out with no return dates set. Luckily, after being sidelined over the weekend due to illness, it is possible that Rio Ferdinand will return to the squad, and he is likely to be joined at the back with Evra, Rafael and Evans. After his astonishing display against Madrid in the first leg, it is highly unlikely that De Gea will be challenged for his position in goal, as his experience of playing against ‘Los Blancos’ acquired during his time with Atlético Madrid could prove to be vital.
Mourinho’s side also come into the game with total confidence and self-belief after back-to-back ‘El Clásico’ wins against rivals FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey tournament and La Liga. Tomorrow’s game could prove vital for the future of José Mourinho at Real Madrid. If the Portuguese manager does not bring home the sides coveted tenth Champions League trophy, that fans have been waiting a decade for, then it is likely that ‘The Special One’ and Real will part ways. Due to poor form in their domestic league, the La Liga trophy will not be staying at the Santiago Bernabéu. Real Madrid are currently in third place, thirteen points behind first place Barcelona, therefore the Champions League is of utmost importance.
In order for Mourinho’s side to keep up with their Catalan rivals, victory tomorrow is a must. During recent months, thanks to reports in the Spanish media of disputes and dressing room conflict between players and manager, Real have lost their air of prominence in European football. Now more than ever is the time for José’s team to pull together.
All eyes will of course be on Cristiano Ronaldo, who makes his long-awaited return to his old stomping ground. After being rested for the majority of his teams clash with Barcelona over the weekend, it is clear that Ronaldo is vital in Mourinho’s tactics. In addition, players such as Khedira, Özil and Higuaín were rested, suggesting that the latter may be preferred to Karim Benzema tomorrow night. Despite still seemingly being injured with a fractured left hand, Real and Spain’s number one keeper, Iker Casillas, has travelled to Manchester. However it is likely that Diego López will continue in net.
Sergio Ramos and Pepe, two of Real Madrid’s most notorious players, will certainly be making appearances. Ramos is well known in Spain for gaining many red and yellow cards, and has even broken records for having the most red cards in La Liga as a Real Madrid players. Fergie’s team should also be on the look out for the occassionally violent Portuguese tackler Pepe, known for slapping, kicking and stamping on opposing players when things aren’t going his way.
Turkey’s Cünyet Çakir will be in charge of the game tomorrow night. Despite being the same age as Ryan Giggs, the referee has experience in big European games. He took charge of the FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea FC Champions League semi-final second leg along with various Euro 2012 qualifiers.
What Has Been Said
Both managers have steered away from any mind games, with both Fergie and Mourinho praising each others teams along with both men envisaging the night to be a very special occasion. Ferguson has commented that, “As a European night I don’t think you get any bigger than this one…It is two great clubs with great histories. It is set up to be a marvellous game. I don’t think it will be a disappointment.” The ‘Special One’ predicted that, “Tomorrow the world will stop for this tie. They are on a fantastic run, better than ever this season…It doesn’t look a tie, it looks a final. Lets see which teams are at Wembley but I doubt the expectation can be bigger than this.”
Michael Carrick also summed up the night brilliantly, “These are the nights you live for. There is just something in the air, something special. Everyone comes with a spring in their step. Every supporter is that little bit more vocal. Everyone is a little bit more up for it.” Whereas Real Madrid player Mesut Özil was a little more confident, “It’s going to be a difficult match against a really good squad, but…if you can win in Barcelona you can win in Manchester”.
I think it is safe to say that whatever happens on Tuesday night, it will be a game that the world will remember for a very long time. This is a clash of the titans; a chance for English and Spanish football to really compete and show the millions of people worldwide that will be watching, just what European football has to offer.
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