The UEFA Champions’ League will be returning this week after a long break without it. Sixteen teams have been left to fight it out for one of the world’s most prestigious prizes. Two of those sixteen teams, Real Madrid and Manchester United, will face each other in what has been called by some as the ‘tie of the round’. Jose Mourinho says that ‘it is the match the world is waiting for’ and frankly it’s hard to argue with him.
One of the many attractions of this game is the fact that it pits Ronaldo against his former club. The Portuguese superstar is already a legend for both clubs, and this week he has the opportunity to knock out the club that provided Ronaldo the platform to grow and to become one of the best players in the world.
So how can Manchester United stop one of the best players in the world? Well, as we have seen in the Premier League so far, Ferguson can make special plans to stop key players on opposing teams. The player that he has used to do this is Phil Jones. Yes, the people who detest Manchester United with a passion will say that Phil Jones stands no chance against one of the best players in the world, and they are probably right. Although Jones has shown his quality in what one would call the ‘spoiler’ position, as he has managed to completely diminish the abilities of Gareth Bale and Marouane Fellaini, when Ferguson gave him the task of man marking them out of the game.
When Jones was tasked with controlling Gareth Bale, who is a very similar player to Ronaldo, he was tasked with sitting in front of the back four, although he was positioned slightly right of centre. This meant that Jones could double up on Bale, with the help of Rafael, whenever possible, effectively taking him out of the game. This will most likely happen again to Ronaldo, he won’t man mark him, but he will stay close to him to make it as difficult as possible for the winger. Rafael might not be the best right-back in the world, but he has the form, and is probably the only United defender that can come even close to matching Ronaldo for pace. If this plan works then he will inevitably switch to the right hand side, and target the vulnerable Patrice Evra. Jones would then switch positions and once again United can double up on Ronaldo. Despite all these plans, Ronaldo has shown that he has the ability of undoing the most well thought out plans, so anything could happen, but Manchester United’s best hope would be to do this and see if they can frustrate Ronaldo, who will obviously be looking to impress against his old club.
There are other players on the team though, such as Di Maria and Alonso, who will also be serious threats to the Manchester United defence. On the left, Ferguson will probably play Welbeck instead of either Kagawa or Young. This is because Welbeck is better defensively than either of those two, and he will be able to provide defensive support for Evra against Di Maria on the left flank. Rooney will also have a very important role in defence; he will be tasked with the challenge of stopping the supply from Alonso. The duel between Alonso and Rooney over the two legs may be crucial to the outcome of the tie, and if Rooney can stop the supply from Alonso by closing him down constantly when he is on the ball. If Rooney can carry this out successfully then United will have a great chance to beat Madrid.
Although do not expect Manchester United just to sit back and defend the whole time, they will also have breaks of their own, and if Manchester united are going to beat Real Madrid, they will have to take those opportunities Real Madrid will have to concentrate at the back, and United have scored a lot of goals this year in the opening 15 minutes of games (12 goals in 26 Premier League matches this season) so it is crucial for Real Madrid to start off well. If Real Madrid manage to isolate Van Persie and cut off most of his supply, expect the Spanish side to come out of the game as winners. That is probably the most crucial part for the Real Madrid defence. They will need to make sure that Rooney is not given space to roam in between midfield and defence, and this is where Xabi Alonso will also play his part. Alonso has to try and force Rooney back so that the Real Madrid defence does not have too much to worry about, as it could open up more space for Van Persie to cause havoc.
This should all make for an interesting game, especially how United are going to deal with the threat of Ronaldo. I think that it will be a close encounter and I think that Real Madrid will just edge it 2-1, as they have the home advantage, but they may find harder at Old Trafford.