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Monday, 4 March 2013

Manchester United v Real Madrid. A Preview

If you have ever turned on the TV during a programme related to football you will know that Jose Mourinho likes to talk. And as much as he likes to talk the British media love to listen. And not only do they listen but they feel compelled to tell us what he has said. Now, a lot of the time this annoys me because half of the stuff he says is either pretty standard for a manger or is pretty pointless. But today in his pre-game press conference he has hit the nail squarely on the head and the media (including me it seems) can’t wait to tell the world about it. His initial thoughts on the game tomorrow… ‘The world will stop to watch.’ Jose, stop talking now because you have just summed it up right there. Anything after this will simply over complicate things.

This game tomorrow is huge. You have two of the biggest clubs in the world, two of the best managers in the world, and arguably on form the best player in the world all involved. As a football fan if you can’t get excited about this game then maybe football isn’t the sport for you. The 1st leg finished 1-1 in the Bernabeu, with Manchester United being the happier of the two sides. Many predicted a car crash of a performance but United not only lived with Real but were unlucky not to score more. The 2nd leg is set up perfectly.
Both teams go into the game in very good form, United warmed up for the game by beating Norwich City by four goals to nil. (A score which slightly flattered United it has to be said) And by the time Wayne Rooney had smashed in the fourth United goal, Real had beaten Barcelona... again.  This was the 2nd time in a week that Madrid had prevailed over their bitter rivals. But more ominously for United they had beaten a pretty much full strength Barcelona side while resting the majority of their much coveted midfield and attack. Ronaldo, Mezut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain were all left on the bench while Xabi Alonso was left out altogether.

Tactically this game is a total minefield. In reality the United away goal makes little difference. Real need to score and the way they are playing you certainly wouldn’t bet against that. So if Real need to score, then so would United and even then we would be left all square overall. But United would progress should the game finish 0-0. And this is where things get tricky. Do United sit in a play for the 0-0? Or do they try and nick a goal themselves which would potentially leave them more open in defence? What is certain is that Phil Jones who was lauded for his performance in Madrid in trying to keep Ronaldo quiet is out with the ankle injury he picked up against Reading a couple of weeks ago. This will make life more difficult but not impossible for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Personally (Not that it really matters what I think, I highly doubt Sir Alex is reading this and taking notes) I think that the United strategy will fall somewhere in between the two approaches mentioned above. It won’t be all out attack and they are highly unlikely to sit back on their 18 yard line either. I think they will certainly set out to try and score, as I believe they will assume that Real will get a goal at some point, so sitting back and waiting for the inevitable would be pointless.
Everyone is focussing on keeping Ronaldo quiet,  and denying him space and time on the ball will be very important but the same is also true in the case on the revitalised Angel Di Maria. The Argentine has not always done himself justice in the legendary white shirt of Madrid but since Christmas you could argue he has been nearly as important to Madrid as Ronaldo. His pace and trickery are a constant threat, especially when Real play on the break. And on top of all this there is the small matter of Ryan Giggs potentially making his 1000th senior professional appearance… under the lights… in the Champions League… at Old Trafford. Oh and one more thing, Ronaldo will make his return to the Old Trafford turf. What a night.

So here we go, prediction time. The atmosphere will be electric and for the neutral it will be a fantastic game but if you are a fan of either team it will be torture, I can promise you that. But when all is said and done I think United will get the job done. I think they will win 2-1 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate. And a very emotional Cristiano Ronaldo will score the Real goal. You heard it here 1st folks.

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