Manchester United travel to Spain on Wednesday night to face Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League Last 16.
Whilst many will be excited about the glamour tie being one for the ages, United will hope its a damp squib that passes by quietly. Leaving the Bernabeu with any sort of result that gives United a chance heading into the 2nd leg at OId Trafford will be great.
United will go into the game on the back of opening up at 12 point lead in the Premier League thanks to victory over Everton at the weekend. Full of confidence and with virtually a full strength squad for Sir Alex to pick a starting 11 from, The Reds will be relishing the chance to test themselves against one of Europe’s greatest.
The Key United Men
Rafael da Silva
Its hard to ignore the obvious threat of Ronaldo for Madrid who will attack down the left wing/drifting inside all game. Coming off a Man of the Match display versus Everton, Rafael is going to again have to be at his very best if United are going to try and keep the Portuguese hitman quiet and help United come away with a foot in the game.
Whilst in attack he was never questioned, assisting Robin van Pesie at the weekend, producing moments of wonderful skill and finding then net himself (one like this Wednesday would be nice Rafa!), he has shown a marked improvement in his defensive game this season. Big peformances against the likes of Nasri and Bale have helped cement his place at right back with defending like this recently v West Ham , v Chelsea earlier in the season and more recently in his shackling of Leighton Baines signs of clear improvements.
With the likes of Ozil, Di Maria and Ronaldo all looking to get on the ball in dangerous areas, one big part in United getting any sort of result will be Michael Carrick continuing his season form for 90 minutes. Whilst not the all tackling, ever physical holding midfielder many would like to see us be able to select, his game is built on his intelligent positioning and interceptions. What makes Carrick so good however, is what he can do with the ball once he has won it back. In a game where United will be looking to counter, it may take one glorious long ball like this one versus Swansea
Keeping hold of the ball when United get it is going to vital. It will help frustrate Madrid and their fans as well as help build momentum for the Reds as they look to be positive. We have seen some lovely passing moves from United of late, all of which Carrick contributes, proving accurate forward momentum to moves as seen in this attack v Spurs and again in the game with Sunderland .
It may take one moment of magic to get United a vital away goal, something Carrick certainly has in his locker, as Newcastle found out. When United needed a moment, Carrick produced
One to Watch
We all know how good a player he is, and after finally it seems (why it took so long I don’t know) being accepted by the Madrid fans, he is now their main man, their idol and will no doubt be threat all game from counter attacks, to set pieces to his aeial ability.
He goes into the game on the back of a hat trick at the weekend, taking his tally to 24 League goals this season including this stunner
A little nod to Mesut Ozil too. Beautiful player who if United give time on the ball will punish you. This control in the recent El Clasico is pure class and a brief look at what he is capable of.
United last faced Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Quarter Finals of the 2002-2003 Champions League. United travelled to Spain for a first leg to face the ‘Galaticos’ of Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Raul.
Madrid took control of the tie early and were 2-0 at half time thanks to two wonderful goals, the first a brilliant lob by Figo the second a clinical finish from Raul.
Raul added a third just after the break as Real countered, then United scored a valuable away goal to take home and give themselves a chance in the 2nd leg at Old Trafford. Ruud van Nistelrooy nodding home a saved Ryan Giggs effort.
Its hard to pick a team for this one but right now (this will change hourly leading up to KO), my team would be as follows…
Rafael Evans Ferdinand Evra
Van Persie Welbeck
United will look to defend well and counter, so for that reason I have included Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck, both players who have great energy and will run and close Real down at every chance. They are also both veyr exciting on the counter. Both have been used in this Diamond system this season so know their roles and what is expected
I can however, see Phil Jones getting a role in central midfield to help double up on Ronaldo. He took up and competed this task brilliant in the recent draw with Spurs and Gareth Bale. If he does, id expect Welbeck to drop out and Kagawa/Rooney move up one position.
The Score? 2-2
For a much more in depth tactical look at the tie, head over to the Stretford-End.com and this great piece