Competition: UEFA Champions League
Location: Santiago Bernabéu
Date: Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
TV: Sky Sports 2 HD
Betting: Real Madrid 8/13 Manchester United 9/2 Draw 10/3
Real Madrid versus Manchester United. Jose Mourinho versus Sir Alex Ferguson. Cristiano Ronaldo versus Robin van Persie. Karim Benzema versus Wayne Rooney. If any game had the potential to be a modern-day classic, it’s this one.
The world will be watching on Wednesday night, as two of the biggest clubs in the world take to the field at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite the similarities between Real and United in terms of size, their seasons so far couldn’t be anymore different. Whilst Real Madrid trail fierce rivals Barcelona by sixteen points in La Liga, Manchester United sit at the top of the Premier League, with a twelve point lead. Madrid have endured huge amounts of criticism already this season, & Mourinho will be desperate to ease the pressure with a win against a club who have played in three Champions League finals in the last five years.
The Champions of Spain are low on confidence, just a couple of weeks after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Getafe. Despite a stunning 4-1 over Sevilla at the weekend, Mourinho’s men are in relatively poor form, and United will surely feel this is the perfect time to play the nine-times Champions League winners.
Following a 2-0 win over Everton at the weekend, Manchester United sit twelve points in front of noisy neighbours Manchester City, and confidence at Old Trafford is sky-high. With the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney scoring goals for fun, and defensive displays improving massively since the return of skipper Nemanja Vidic, you have to feel that United have much more of a chance than many are actually giving them.
A key factor on Wednesday will be Cristiano Ronaldo, and whether his former side can handle the Portuguese international. Ronaldo, unsurprisingly, is in fantastic form following yet another hat-trick at the weekend. United’s weaknesses at the back have been well-documented this season, and Ronaldo, Benzema and co will provide their biggest challenge of the campaign so far. Phil Jones has been utilised in midfield in recent weeks to counter the threats of Gareth Bale and Marouane Fellaini, and a similar role is possible for the game against Madrid, with one eye on Ronaldo.
This is, of course, entirely dependent on Jones’ fitness, which is in doubt after he limped off early in the second-half against Everton. If fit, there is no doubt in my mind that Jones should be one of the first names on the teamsheet, following another impressive display at the weekend. The same can be said for Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic, who were both imperious against Everton.
With a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, you get a perfect combination of elegance and experience, along with infectious energy and agility. Add steel and sheer power to that midfield in the shape of Phil Jones, and you get a midfield that has everything needed to handle a Real Madrid midfield without the likes of Xabi Alonso.
On the right-wing, Antonio Valencia offers speed and strength, not only going forward, but also at the back, countering the man he replaced at Old Trafford. As for the left, Wayne Rooney’s hard work and natural desire to help his team would be invaluable to an aging Patrice Evra, who will need to be at his very best to handle one of the best front-lines in Europe. Up front, Robin van Persie will be in store for a frustrating evening, often isolated. However, a player of his class should be able to handle such circumstances, and could prove to be United’s match winner yet again. My predicted Manchester United XI: de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Jones, Rooney; van Persie. My predicted Real Madrid XI: Lopez; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Higuaín, Xabi Alonso, Modric, Ronaldo; Ozil; Benzema.
Make no mistake, this is going to be an incredibly difficult game for both sides, especially for Manchester United. However, looking at United’s away record this season, particularly in the big games, there is something about this team that makes me think they have a chance on Wednesday. Maybe predicting a United win is bordering on delusional, rather than optimistic, but a score-draw is absolutely possible with the attacking talent on show. Therefore, I’m going to predict a 2-2 draw, with Robin van Persie scoring both goals for Manchester United, and Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos netting for the home side.