United and Real gear up for titanic clash
Published: 13.02.13 / Written by: David Gold
One of the non Spanish winners of the Champions League group phase was going to be extremely disappointed on the evening of December 20th.
In the event it was Manchester United, whose reward for winning their group was to face one of the toughest possible tests any of the other 14 teams in the competition could have been handed.
And so tomorrow night, Real will face United in one of the most eagerly anticipated Champions League ties of recent times. The two sides have a rich history in this competition, and are the two biggest names in football in pure marketing terms. None can match their respective fanbases.
Yet these are two teams who, in their quest to add to their nine and three European Cup crowns apiece, have been thwarted by the same common enemy in recent years. Barcelona. The Catalans have beaten Manchester United in the finals of the 2009 and 2011 tournaments, although the English side were victorious when they met in the last four in 2008.
Real Madrid were beaten in the semi finals in 2011 by Barcelona, and this could well end up being a clash between two sides fighting for the right to take on Barcelona at Wembley on May 25. Along with the two German sides, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and then possibly Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus, there are few others who could hope to defeat the Catalans.
It will be a fascinating tactical test between the teams. Madrid have struggled for pretty much the entire season so far, but they are still a formidable opponent. They are in many ways gearing themselves up specifically for the Champions League, hoping that they can lift what would be their tenth league title.
United will have to contain Realís dangermen, and for one that means Cristiano Ronaldo of course. How United can stop him influencing the game without opening themselves up to Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil or Karim Benzema will be difficult. They must also prevent Xabi Alonso dictating proceedings, so Wayne Rooney will be critical to that effort. Rooney is a superb hard working player, but can be reluctant to track back when his team is struggling, and that is something to be wary of.
Alonso is particularly dangerous. He can turn defense into attack instaneously with his sharp passing over distances. And Man Utd must be wary of attacking too much, lest they open themselves up. Madrid struggle against teams who shut up shop and deny them space. That could be the key if United are to win this game.
Madrid for their part must contain United on the break. Fergusonís side have fast and skilful wingers who can stretch a defence, and Madridís centre backs are hardly the best positionally. That could give Robin van Persie the chance to exploit holes and space created by Unitedís width, and give them a crucial away goal. It shapes up to be a belter of a game, a real cracking contest between two of Europeís finest teams. Predicting a winner is almost impossible.