Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid play host to Manchester United in the glamour tie of this seasons Champions League last sixteen, when the two giants clash at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night(7.45).
Both teams come into tonights game at the height of their powers, and something has to give. The tie also has the added spice of ex United star Cristiano Ronaldo facing his old team-mates for the first time since his £80m move in 2009. Ronaldo, 28, scored his 20th hat-trick since arriving in Spain, as Madrid beat Seville 4-1 on Saturday. He has now scored 182 goals from only 179 games and is clearly the player United have to fear on Wednesday.
United legend Gary Neville is convinced Ronaldo is now a better player than when he left Old Trafford: “Now, he is a monster. I saw him on Saturday evening. He picks the ball up in an innocuous position, 30 yards out, does some type of shimmy I can’t even describe let alone do, beats a man and whacks it in from 25 yards. You can’t defend against that. Then he scores a counter-attack goal when he chases 80 yards forward, then he preys on the back of the centre-half and scores a hat-trick inside 30 minutes.”
It is expected that Sir Alex Ferguson may ask Phil Jones to man-mark Ronaldo in the Champions League game, although Neville is not certain that will work: “You literally need to have two men against him. Even then they might both get beaten,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.
For their part, United have been in excellent form this season, and already look to have the Premiership title in the bag despite there still being almost four months to go. Ferguson has succeeded in building yet another new team, and they will feel that they have every chance of emulating the great sides that went before them. Madrid will be firm favourites with home advantage and the menace of Ronaldo but Ferguson has faced challenges like this many times previously and is sure to have a game plan worked out.
Veteran midfielder Paul Scholes will miss the first leg of Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Real Madrid with a knee injury. The 38-year-old has not played since January’s 4-1 win over Fulham in the third round of the FA Cup.
Ashley Young has overcome his own knee problem, while Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick are set to be recalled.
Real Madrid midfielders Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira should return after being rested.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas is out with a broken hand so January signing Diego Lopez is expected to continue in his absence.
Real Madrid: Diego Lopez, Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Varane, Fabio Coentrao, Khedira, Alonso, Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo, Benzema. Subs: Adan, Pepe, Kaka, Carvalho, Essien, Modric, Higuain.
Man Utd: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Welbeck, Carrick, Jones, Kagawa, Rooney, van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Smalling, Hernandez, Cleverley.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)
Despite United’s current form, it is difficult to look beyond Madrid in this first leg. The Reds will be hoping to get an away goal in the bag and keep the tie alive for the return leg in Manchester. In what has the makings of a thriller, Madrid are given the verdict, and the 7/2 with Boylesports on Ronaldo to score first is also advised.