When the Round of 16 draw for the Champions League was made, a mouthwatering tie was set. It is not everyday that you get to watch MANCHESTER UNITED play REAL MADRID in a 2-legged tie for the right to progress to the next round.
Rivalries renewed not only between the two great clubs, but also the men at the helm. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are pretty much close friends with mutual respect for each other. The witty, old Scot hasn’t done well against sides the Portuguese has managed. 3 wins in 14 with 6 losses is not one to be proud of – although he threw Inter Milan and Jose out of the Champions League in the 08-09 season.
On the way to Porto’s triumph in Gelsenkirchen-2004, the Dragons shattered Fergie’s dreams in the Round of 16 in a controversial 2nd leg that saw a legitimate Scholes goal disallowed, then Costinha went on to score in injury time to send the English giants out of that season’s UCL campaign.
The sad memories of 2000 and 2003 are still fresh in Sir Alex’s memory. The Red Fevils led by Superintendent Roy, earned a creditable 0-0 draw in the Spanish capital and were expected to finish the Blancos at the Theatre of Dreams.
However, a certain Fernando Carlos Redondo, the Buenos Aires born Midfield conductor had other ideas. 8 years after setting the King Fahd Confederations Cup alight with some mesmerising displays, he rekindled the form at Old Trafford.
The Argentine midfielder who was famously called the ‘White Machine’ by the Merengues faithful, bossed the game like none other, leaving Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in awe at such an explosive display. He was head and shoulders above all his teammates and opponents that night.
His brilliantly executed back heel that went round Henning Berg was the highlight of a wonderful night…the resultant effect was a great pass to the deadly Raul who had no problem scoring the 3rd and final goal. The match ended 3-2 and Del Bosque’s men went on to win the tournament for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.
In 2003, it was another story entirely. At the Bernabeu, Luis Figo, Zizou and Raul Blanco put on a show to ensure that Manchester United were soundly beaten 3-1. In the return leg, II Fenomeno Ronaldo had a score to settle with French Goalkeeper Barthez who was part of the World Cup winning Les blues team v Brazil 5 years prior. A match in which De Lima Ronaldo was below par and half fit.
The Selecao legend registered a well taken hat-trick against Manchester United on the way to a 3-4 loss. They actually led 3-1 until David Beckham came off the bench to score two quickfire goals. 6-5 (on agg) it ended in favour of the ‘Whites’. Yet another disappointment for the Red Army.
Tomorrow at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester United will attempt to make things right v a great team comprising of former ward, Cristiano Ronaldo. The 08 Ballon D’or winner aside, Los Blancos have Ricky Kka, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema, Pipita Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Pepe, Sergio Ramos et al to call on when things become difficult. Young Raphael Varane has come of age too.
Manchester United are not far behind in terms of quality players who can turn the tide. Wayne Rooney and RVP are currently the deadliest strike force in the world in my humble opinion and it will take something much more than the Ramos-Pepe tandem to stop them from causing untold damage over both legs.
In midfield, Michael Carrick has shone brightly this term and has what it takes to pull the necessary strings. Ryan Giggs is playing like an 18 year old. The evergreen jewel of Sir Alex hasn’t put a foot wrong in the last two months. His old head will be needed to negotiate through this daunting task.
The likes of Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia haven’t been impressive at all this season. It is a miracle that the Red Devils lie 12 points ahead of closest challengers City. All the wingers are in wretched form at the moment. Japan’s Shinji Kagawa showed signs of his Dortmund form in the last couple of games he featured in, although he hasn’t controlled any game like he used to, when he was a Borussen. If there’s any stage he will like to light up, then this is the one.
The Red Army’s defence must also be at its best to keep out the rampaging RM attackers. Vidic was rock solid v Everton on Sunday. The old warrior attributes were evident in his commanding defensive display two days ago. Jonny Evans at his side was his usual calm and composed self, but he might pave way for the experienced Rio Ferdinand when the team sheet is read out tomorrow.
The full backs Evra and Rafael have to maintain complete concentration levels throughout the encounter to avoid being exposed by Di Maria and the GREAT CR7 of life.
CR7 v Rafael da Silva
It is common knowledge nowadays that Ronaldo operates from the left flank, then comes infield sometimes and occasionally drifts to the right and the middle. Apart from the Brazilian youngster, Rafael, whoever plays defensive midfield must be alert and supportive to reduce the threat posed by the Portuguese captain.
Phil Jones did a great job on Bale and most recently Fellaini, but none of them is Ronaldo Dos Santos. Anderson would have been the right pick for this kind of job…Oh well, the injury prone left footer is not good enough at the moment. Some flashes of brilliance have been shown by him this season though. That’s all to it.
Benzema/Higuain v VIDIC/RIO
None of them are in form currently, but to dismiss the strengths they possess would be plain daft and unprofessional. Pipita Higuain was a different animal when he wore the Albiceleste jersey v Sweden in a recent friendly.
He is perhaps weighed down by the continued alterations at the Bernabeu. That and injuries have contributed to his poor form this season. Nonetheless, he is fully fit and wants to make the centre forward role at the capital his own.
Benz, on the other hand, is not doing well. Granted, he scored a fortuitous goal at the weekend but his all round play has been woeful at best. Whoever Jose chooses to lead the line must be closely watched by Captain Vida and his friend Rio.
OZIL V CARRICK, CLEVERLEY/ANDERSON, KAKAGWA V KHEDIRA-ALONSO
Games of recent times are now won or lost in midfield and this one is no exception. Mesut Ozil is currently one of the best attacking midfielders in the game. Only Andres Iniesta is better to me. If not closely attended to, he will cause lots of havoc tomorrow. His vision, defence splitting passes, great technique and ball usage cannot be overemphasised. Those who watch the Spanish League are aware of this all.
If there’s anyone who can make the German superstar uncomfortable, it is Carrick. The Englishman has been reborn and is playing the best season of his career yet. He dominates his position like none other and makes others around him look great. His job tomorrow will be very important and confidence is sky high on his part. He should have a good game.
Whoever partners Carrick in the centre of the pack must also play out of his mind. Sami Khedira is fast becoming the best in his position. His mazy runs and fast interplay are breathtakingly majestic. Xabi Alonso-oh my GOD. The man who also bears Alonso is one of my favourite players ever. His qualities are countless. He can pass to heaven if he wants. He is a WORLD CLASS AND DYNAMIC footballer any day.
The only time his dominance wanes is v Barcelona, thanks to Xavi and Busquets. The former Liverpool midfielder needs no further introduction. Set him loose and you get more than what you bargained for. He is the fulcrum of the Madrid team and his effectiveness should be suppressed.
ROONEY-RVP v PEPE-RAMOS
Contrary to what many people believe, I think it is Wayne Rooney that will come out shining tomorrow at the Bernabeu. Analysts and pundits have singled out RVP as the main man for MUFC. That is a surprise. RVP can only play his position.
Wayne is a versatile beast. A bull. A monster. His all round play against the toffees was a sight to behold. He assisted Evra on more than one occasion and made himself available when others were tight and had no space.
If Manchester United will take anything significant from Madrid tomorrow, Rooney has a big role to play. Way bigger than any other for the Red Devils. Robin Van Persie has fit in well into the system at Manchester United. He looked rusty on Sunday,fluffing at balls and missing easy chances..He wouldn’t make any mistake v Real Madrid. More than anything, he wants to succeed this season and do well in the Champions League; his 23 goals this season is nothing compared to Ronaldo’s 36 in actual fact.
He is the highest goal scorer in the Premier League and that’s no mean feat. His goals have been very important and 10 assisst added to that is nothing such of exemplary.
The combination/partnership with Rooney is blossoming. It will have to be profound and deadly to drive the team to victory.
Kepler Laveran Lima ‘Pepe’ is back from injury. The towering centre back has been out for a while. Mourinho’s men have coped well without him. His return from injury is a welcome development.
The Merengues are a stronger set-up with PEPE-RAMOS at the back. One is strong and ruthless, the other is physical and gigantic. Their plan to stop the Roo-RVP strike force must have alternatives because of the talents the aforementioned have in abundance.
Roo can drop deep, RvP can also go wide and their movements sometimes is terrifying.
David De Gea
David De Gea has been widely criticised for his shaky start to life as a Manchester United gloves man. The undisputed 1st choice has shown his incredible talent many times this season. Magnificent saves have become like bread and butter for the long term heir to Iker Casillas’ Roja goalkeeping throne.
Despite his well documented problem connected to lack of command of his area, his shot-stopping abilities outweigh whatever he falls short of. He will be called upon many times to save his team and he will rise to the challenge. That is most assured.
For Real Madrid, Iker is injured/out for a while. The captain and great goalie was accidentally kicked in the hand by his own teammate, Arbeloa. Jose acted quickly by sealing a deal for former RM keeper, Diego Lopez who was at Sevilla. Lopez has been an able deputy, playing exceptionally well v Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey 1st Leg and has been superb ever since.
Antonio Adan, Iker’s able deputy, has been overlooked ever since, fuelling the speculation that Mou only used him to remind Casillas that he isn’t indispensable.
This titanic clash will be an interesting spectacle for the viewing public. Mourinho and Fergie face each for the 15th time. Cristiano Ronaldo faces his old club for the fist time since he left 3+ years ago. Both clubs haven’t crossed paths for 10 years. It remains to be seen how this will play out.
Whatever happens, football is the ultimate victor.
Written by Ohireime Eboreime
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