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Manchester United Welcome Real Madrid in True Clash of the Titans

Ronaldo heads Madrid's equaliser at The BernabeuEver since Manchester United were drawn against Real Madrid in the first knockout round of the 2013 Champions’ League, the 5th of March has been on every United and Madrid fan’s mind. It is a match that sets the world alight and inspires a thousand clichés of the highest quality. But no cliché can do this gargantuan game justice (another cliché), as two iconic teams, rich in both history and talent compete in a finely poised tie to advance to the last 16.


“Form goes out the window in games like these.” Of course, this is true to an extent, and United fans will be hoping Real’s two Clasico wins aren’t replicated at Old Trafford.

However, it is worth looking beyond the Clasicos. Whilst Madrid’s form is certainly stellar, having won four out of the last four La Liga games, they previously lost to Granada away and struggled to overcome a dogged Deportivo La Coruña, again away from home, during their winning streak. Manchester United have more than matched this impressive winning run, assuredly easing past their last five opponents. Despite this success, Phil Jones’ injury is a keen blow for Fergie and his game plan, as Jones was key to United’s first leg success, snuffing out Madrid attacks like an exuberant guard dog. Cleverley is one of the candidates to replace Jones along with 1000 game man Ryan Giggs, but whoever is chosen will undoubtedly compromise the team’s level of rigidity and defensive assurance. Mourinho himself sprang a surprise when he named Iker Casillas in the travelling squad, despite the belief that the Spanish keeper would be out due to a broken thumb. But, with no match practice since the 23rd January, it is likely to be one of the Portuguese’s famed mind games. Otherwise, Madrid boast a full and healthy squad.

Match Up

The Real Madrid squad is like a Swiss army knife; they have many ways to prise open the lock of a defence, and whilst they may have their favoured tools, all are effective to varying degrees against various defensive combinations. Ronaldo, Benzema, Di Maria, Ozil, Alonso, Modric, Kaka, Callejón, even Coentrao rampaging from left-back. It is a startlingly extensive toolbox, and one to fear and respect. However, in Spain it is a general consensus that if Ozil or Ronaldo don’t perform, neither do Madrid. This is how United nullified the Madrileños in the first leg, completely shutting down the space in which the tricky duo could operate. Save for a jump from Ronaldo that rivalled Felix Baumgartner (and a lot of help from ‘San’ De Gea) the home side would have been held to zero goals. Critics and pessimists may point to Madrid’s wins since that game, two Clasico wins, and give up hope. If the best club side in the history of the world of ever succumb to defeat home and away, what chance do the tepid Red Devils have? Yet, Madrid, I would argue, are essentially the kryptonite to Barcelona’s superman, as they are set up perfectly to beat the Catalonians. Madrid are an extremely incisive counter-attacking team, and so Barcelona pressing high up the pitch and controlling the majority of possession (72% on Saturday) plays straight into Mourinho’s hands, as it gives Ronaldo and co. lots of space to play with. It is therefore imperative that whoever replaces Phil Jones does just as good a job at closing down space and avenues through which Ozil can saunter, as the tie will most likely depend on it. Real Madrid often labour when having to break down a deep lying defence, and Manchester United could spin the counter-attack tactic right back on Madrid. If exposed, Arbeloa is not so strong defensively whilst Coentrao could leave a lot of space which can be taken advantage of. In addition, despite some marvellous saves at the Bernabeu, Diego Lopez is a shaky keeper; only this weekend he allowed Messi to score in his near post. But for this game plan to be effective, United need to be at their clinical best. Surprisingly, though, with Van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck all starting at the Bernabeu, they struggled to finish off their chances in the previous leg. Welbeck, Van Persie and Giggs were all guilty of misses which could have pushed United out of sight in the tie. Rooney is likely to be deployed in a more defensive and limited position again for the tactical good of the team, so much could rest on the boot of Robin van Persie, and whilst he has only scored 2 in his last 10 Manchester United games, he is a handy tool to have up front for any team.


Despite the defensive set up Manchester United are likely to take, the loss of Jones could compromise any of their attempts to keep the Galacticos off the score sheet, and so they will have to score, obviously, to advance. With Van Persie in poor form by his standards, there is slight apprehension over United’s ability to put the ball in the back of the net. My head says 1-2 to Madrid, my heart says 2-1 to United. Either way, a classic Champions’ League tie awaits.

You can get odds of 10.50 United to win 2-1 and just 9.00 for Madrid to win 2-1 with bwin. You can also get a free bet.

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  1. Opti

    March 5, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Chicharito? He has this game written in the stars: comes off bench, wins tie for United. 2-1 United… Chicharito moves into mythical territory.

    PS: If United (somehow) manages to go 2 goals up (2-0, 3-1) in injury time, I want to hear “Viva Ronaldo” blaring from every corner of Old Trafford followed by “Glory Glory Man United”… just to remind Ronaldo of where he belongs 😉 Not arrogant, just better!


    • jos

      March 5, 2013 at 3:26 am

      @Opti: i would have chicha starting in attack and rvp and kagawa in support. will play carrick and cleverly to shield the defence and rooney pulling the strings in between. basically setup to play on the counter. chicha, rvp and kagawa are our best finishers they should all play up top. rooney can play crossfield passes to setup counters and he can do a shift in defense as well.

      remember we dont need to attack.

      • Redrich

        March 5, 2013 at 3:35 am

        @jos: You assume then that we will hold them to 0-0.
        Not realistic, mate. We, indeed, do need to attack, not all out, but with enough conviction for RM to hold their full backs back.

        I think RVP and Rooney and Kagawa will be our attacking options, with Rooney, once again, playing wide and deeper.

        • Opti

          March 5, 2013 at 4:10 am

          @Redrich: How we played at Madrid was PERFECT. Give Madrid the ball and say: “Come and score, but we will strike you on counter.”

          RvP is not a counter-attacking striker, but Madrid are too strong and fast for us if we try to dominate and make a mistake. 0-0, I also don’t believe will be the final score, but if we attack, I doubt we can avoid conceding 2…

          Basically, the way I see it, first goal wins the game. Madrid will counter us to pieces if they go ahead. If we lead, Madrid will run out of ideas and leave a lot of space for our counter attack: Valencia, Nani, Young, Welbeck, Chicharito, Shinji, Rooney.

          Most important/defining game since Champions League final against Chelsea? I think so.

        • jos

          March 5, 2013 at 4:46 am

          @Redrich: thats why play your best finishers. we will also get our chances, we just need to make sure they feel to right feet (or heads). I’d rather chicha or kagawa or rvp be there at the receiving end of those chances than anybody else.

          i didnt say we wont attack. i said we dont need to. we just need to attack on the counter and hopefully the likes of kagawa, rvp, chicha will get goals.

      • The_Philosopher

        March 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

        @jos: I would play Nani instead of Chicha. His finishing is also decent.

        RVP, Kagawa and Nani up front.

        Those three will make a solid counter attacking unit.

        If we had a decent left winger I would play Chicha up front with van persie supporting him in the number 10 position and Nani on the right.

  2. Warzycha

    March 5, 2013 at 4:39 am

    “Save for a jump from Ronaldo that rivalled Felix Baumgartner (and a lot of help from ‘San’ De Gea) the home side would have been held to zero goals.”

    Yes… De Gea is responsible for the goal. Not Evra, who allowd a completely free header, but De Gea who was outgunned. FFS!!!

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 5:03 am

      @Warzycha: I read the sentence that way the first time. If you re-read it, it *should* be interpreted as: “If it wasn’t for Ronaldo’s insane header Madrid would have been held scoreless (thanks to De Gea’s amazing saves).”

      • Warzycha

        March 5, 2013 at 5:47 am


        Sorry, my English is no good. Sorry, Ollie.
        I’m a jerk 🙂

        • jos

          March 5, 2013 at 6:07 am

          @Warzycha: warzycha. it wasnt even Evra’s fault either. You cant do much against Ronaldo in the air. He is arguably one of the greatest headers of the ball of all time. Evra was dead even before the ball was played to Roanldo.

  3. The_Philosopher

    March 5, 2013 at 10:23 am

    When I sit and think about it a 4-3-3 is the best I can come up with:

    Kagawa(Lw), RVP(Cf) and Nani(Rw) upfront.

    Rooney, Carrick and Rafael(man marking Ronaldo) in midfield.

    Evra(Lb), Ferdinand(Cb), Vidic/Evans(Cb) and Smalling/Valencia (Rb)

    With David De Gea in goal.

    Ferguson is planning on playing Giggs by the looks of things. I have no idea where Giggs would fit in in a game like this.

    We need a quick winger like Nani to act as a release valve for the pressure we’re going to be under. Thats why I would play Nani up front instead of Chicha. Nani is better in terms of ball control and passing than Chicha is and his finishing is decent as well.

    Kagawa is a great finisher as well so I would put him on the left. Jos I totally agree with you.

    And Robin van Persie is such an intelligent footballer I would obviously be looking to him for the breakthrough in terms of goals.

    Rooney to knit together the defense and attack. And to generally run amok.

    Carrick to keep things tidy at the back.

    Rafael to man mark Ronaldo.

    Valencia or Smalling at right back to support Nani’s pace (Valencia) or augment our defensive effort (Smalling). Rooney and Carrick to marshall the middle.

    Cicha can come on later to score goals if need be.

    That is how I would set it up.

    In reality though Ferguson will probably put Welbeck on one of the wings with Giggs marshalling proceedings in the middle and augmenting the attacking threat.

  4. Stephen

    March 5, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Evra could have done better with the header, he should have jumped with Ronaldo an off balanced him.

    Rafael is vitally important, he needs to keep his head and composer as I can see him getting sent off tonight.

    The midfield is the really only position where Fergie needs to think. It seems as though Giggs will start, he was wrapped in cotton wool for the weekend and all signs seem to be for him to play tonight.

    Rooney for me was given unfair criticism in the first leg, I hope he plays just behind RvP where he can keep an eye on Alonso. I would bet on him scoring as he does score in spells.

    All in all it will be a very tough game, Real are playing well, but so are we.

    RvP is a big game player, let him prove this ce soir!

    • The_Philosopher

      March 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      @Stephen: RVP has been very quiet of late. I hope he is ready for tonight.

      It was a very uncharacteristic thing for him to swipe at the ball the way he did in the first leg when he had the keeper at his mercy.

      Maybe the weight of the situation knocked his composure.

      But I would still play him. I just hope he has his game face on tonight.

      He left Arsenal because they weren’t interested in winning anything.

      I hope he is ready to start winning tonight.

  5. ash is the man

    March 5, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    absolutely shaking with excitement for tonights game…..
    its a trick one to call and obviously we cannot go gung ho but i really hope i dont have to sit back for another 90min and watch us defend and defend. United are always a better team when they attack…..

    i would like rooney in the hole with kagawa floating from the left and nani from the right but if i know fergie i reckon he will disappoint me again and play rooney on the wing and completely nullify his attacking abilities 🙄

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      @ash is the man: Give Fergie some credit for the first leg…

      “United are always a better team when they attack…..” — except against Barca…Real Madrid?

      • ash is the man

        March 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        @Opti: my point is that too many times i have seen united bow out of europe when the try this controlled football and it just doesnt suit us. We have an embarrassment of riches in attack and i would just like us to play to our strengths and give real madrid a headache ( instead of us fearing them )

        If we go toe to toe and lose i will accept defeat, but if we sit back and still end up losing then i will be left with a sour taste

  6. The_Philosopher

    March 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    2-1 is the best we can hope for.

    With most of our resources being committed to defending deep and nullifying their counter attack we will have limited options going forward.

    Scoring 3 goals or more seems fancifull.

    So does keeping a clean sheet.

    I hope its an enjoyable game.

  7. The_Philosopher

    March 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    I have a question for you guys.

    If you could magically insert any player in the world into our squad for tonight would you?

    And if you would who would it be and why them?

    You can’t pick Ronaldo or anyone from Madrid.

    • Ian

      March 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Bryan Robson

    • jos

      March 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      @The_Philosopher: I’d pick Bale and have him on the left and leave Madrid with another headache to stop him.

      Then I will play simple solid 4-4-1-1 with Rooney supporting RVP and Bale cutting from the left, Nani attacking from the right. Carrick and Cleverly in midfield to do all the running (with rooney helping them).

      A simple one man solution to all our problems!

    • Warzycha

      March 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm


      Claude Makelele

  8. Stephen

    March 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Roy Keane.

  9. Warzycha

    March 5, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Mourinho will play to save his ass. But he will loose and will get fired.

    I already know the scoreline 🙂

    3-1. 1st goal by Ferdinand, around 20′. 44′, Di Maria strikes Back. Rooney on 70′ and 85′. 85′ will be a goal to be remembered.

  10. Opti

    March 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    #1 reason United win today: the Old Trafford pitch. It doesn’t allow for slick passing and will throw off the perfectionists at Madrid (Ozil, Alonso). Home advantage is big in this one and I am surprised no one has mentioned it yet…

  11. Stephen

    March 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Opti, the concern is the away goal rule. Yes we are at home and our home record is good. But the waway goal rule does give sides in the second legs of games a real chance. Real with their fire power, for me actually hve a slight advantage as the tie is all square.
    The pitch is also an issue for us, we hardly play long ball football and cab counter attack with the best of them.

  12. Moscow

    March 5, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    I fear for us tonight, Real Madrid have a free flowing specialised midfield which takes care of defense, engine and playmaking. They are probably one of the few sides to match and perhaps even better our flanks. If we’d bought a proper midfielder then we would be able to impose our best system of 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 without sacrificing the talent of our best players like Rooney. Ferguson confirmed that Giggs will be involved but I hope he is not in the starting XI, there are plenty of games for him to get that 1000th appearance and I’d settle for a dead rubber PL game if I’m honest. Once again we will rely on our most powerful weapon, Robin van Persie, he can prove to be the difference as he was against similarly powerful sides like Chelsea and Manchester City.

    If we concede in the first half we will lose the tie.

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      @Moscow: 4-1 to United after 45 minutes… do we still lose tie 😀 😆

  13. Racs

    March 5, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Good afternoon all!

    I bet you are all super excited and can’t wait for the game to started! I know i certainly can’t! I just wanted to gain your views on a few pointers:

    1. What will be our starting 11, formation setup and overall game plan?
    2. What trends do you think we will see during the game?
    3. Prediction of final score and scorers?

    I honestly think we will set up defensively tonight, contain and soak up pressure and then try and hit them on the break! We have been renowned for our counter attacking football and i don’t think we should envy Real’s counter attacking ability as we certainly have players to hurt them. I would target their right side and in particular the zone which will be occupied by Arebeloa. If we can get balls out wide to whomever might play there tonight, could be rooney, kagawa, nani and welbeck then I think we can cause them some damage!

    We need to be able to compete in midfield for sure. We can’t all be focusing on just Ronaldo as Real have a team of great individuals who can hurt as at any moment. Just as we need to nullify Ronaldo’s threat i honesty think trying to stop Xabi Alonso’s game is equally as important as he is the one who makes them tick. This is exactly what Jurgen Klopp said they set out to do and they played a blinder against Real! If we can nullify his threat then we would also stand a chance.

    I just hope SAF makes the right team selection and he will need to get his tactics spot on tonight if we are to go through. I was extremely pessimistic before Christmas (weren’t we all? hehe) but as we have come into the new year we have certainly tightened the screws in terms of our overall consistency of performances! Our defensive performances have been extremely encouraging in the last couple of months and you can bet your bottom dollar then we are going to need one hell of a defensive display from the lads tonight.

    Having said all of the above we shouldn’t envy or be intimidated by a team such as Real as we are just as big as them and we have the personnel to get a positive result and go through the quarters!

    Here’s to a great night of champions league of football under the lights at the THEATRE.

    All together now…. YOU-EN-EYEEEEEE……….

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      1. What will be our starting 11, formation setup and overall game plan?
      ——— De Gea ———-
      ——– Carrick ———–
      –Valencia or Nani– Welbeck –
      ———- RvP————-

      2. What trends do you think we will see during the game?
      I think it will be a (chess) game of set pieces (corners, FKs). Initially, we will try and get the early goal while Madrid soak up pressure and look for counter. Then United will settle with long balls and accept Madrid pressure and possession and hit them on counter. Rooney to harass Alonso, Welbeck on Ramos. Rooney/Rvp/Welbeck to hold a high line and force Coentrao and their RB back. Chicharito will come on to decide game…

      3. Prediction of final score and scorers?
      Any guess is as good as mine. Heart says “Spirit of Barca 2008. 1-0 United or 2-1 — nervy stuff, Chicharito will carry the flag after 90 minutes”, head says: “too close to call *gulp*”! Also, Rooney hasn’t scored at OT in UCL since 2010… so I fancy him to break that duck.

      Jittery like a school boy waiting on his first ever date to show…

    • One United

      March 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      @Racs: first off, to answer @philosopher- my player of choice would be Roy Keane! my best player ever for Man Utd. He truly wa the personification of Sir Alex on the football pitch.he would and could do anything that was necessary- Tacckle, Pass, Score, Bully and most of all he had Belief.
      Moving on, since man marking seems to be the theme with Sir Alex.. if i were to choose a player, like “the Philosopher” i would go with Rafael, my only issue would be aerial battles, however he would leave Ronaldo to our defenders to handle in the box.
      As for my selection, i would opt a diamond 4-4-2 (barring man marking) with

      DE GEA

      Rooney would also drop deeper than his second striker role or could even inter change with kagawa.
      More importantly in the second half when Madrid tire ( and they will tire), i would bring Young and Nani on for Anderson and Kagawa 9 as i know those two would also tire), possibly Hernandez on for RVP, Rooney or Cleverly dependent on the whether we are chasing the game or not! Possibly playing Carrick and Rooney as a midfield two.
      For those questioning my initial diamond, it gives us discipline and a compactness. Its not like our wingers have been on form this season

      What do you guys think

  14. AndyCR7

    March 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    No Rooney!!! But you cannot question fergie, can you?

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm


      “Wayne Rooney drops to the bench as Ryan Giggs makes his 1000th senior competitive appearance, Nani starts as another of the six changes from the weekend.”

      Well that complicates predictions… Giggs starting against Real Madrid. Is this 2003 or 2013??????

    • ash is the man

      March 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      @AndyCR7: no rooney in the starting line up is baffling, i cannot make sense of it

  15. Opti

    March 5, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Real Madrid starting XI v Man Utd:
    López (good); Arbeloa (good), Varane (good), Ramos (good), Coentrão; Alonso, Khedira, Di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuain (good).

    I fear Benzema more than Higuain. Varane is young and will make mistakes, however sublime he has been this season. Ramos is a walking red card. Lopez is not a Saint.


  16. Opti

    March 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    United XI: De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley, Nani, Giggs (?), Welbeck, Van Persie

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      @Opti: Is Rooney on bench = payback?

    • Opti

      March 5, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      @Opti: Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Valencia, Rooney, Hernandez, Young, Kagawa.

    • Racs

      March 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm


      Good to see Nani getting a start! Hopefully his unpredictability will be something positive for us tonight!

      I guess we are going for a 4-3-3 in attack, 4-5-1 in defence?

      ………………..De Gea…………………






      Need a mammoth performance from the back 4 tonight!

  17. Opti

    March 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    The pressure on Cleverley, Nani, Giggs is SKY-HIGH… it’s a huuuuge gamble and Fergie’s response to losing Jones, methinks

  18. Stephen

    March 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    No Rooney is madness, lets see if Nani can fianally perform and Welbeck jeez. Yes he had a decent game in the first leg, but is he better than Wazza, of course not.

    • ash is the man

      March 5, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      @Stephen: cant believe it mate, i really cant, its astonishing

  19. Moscow

    March 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Haven’t seen us this solid defensively since 2009. Or are Real Madrid off colour?

    • gator

      March 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      @Moscow: ref just killed the credibility of the cl. 🙄

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