Real Madrid Hold Both Advantage and Expectation Against Manchester United

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Real Madrid Hold Both Advantage and Expectation Against Manchester United
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Like him or loathe him, United must deny Ronaldo

Not since the mid-nineties has the Premier League's most successful club been so quickly designated the underdog ahead of a Champions League clash that pits them against Spain's reigning champions.

Yet second favourites they will almost certainly be, as Manchester United will have to contend with the almost divine aura that surrounds Real Madrid in this competition.

Though, when the two sides meet in February it will be close to 11 years since Los Blancos last reached the final of Europe's most elite club competition.

In fairness, Madrid have recently been on the receiving end of semifinal knockout blows from "team of the century" Barcelona and a thoroughbred Bayern Munich side that has failed to capitalise on two finals in the past three seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson will know the size of the task but also the size of the expectation, which rests firmly on the shoulders of Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

There appears to be no limits to the abilities of their Manchester made talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, yet it is also unclear just how good this United attack is.

In England—as far as results go—it is second to none, conjuring three goals apiece at the home of their closest rivals, Manchester City and Chelsea.

But the atmosphere in the Bernabeu and its steep enveloping stands will be new to all their players save veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and fledgling keeper David De Gea.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Van Persie and Rooney. Rarely does second best look this potent

Scholes and Giggs though are unlikely starters should Ferguson want his midfield to keep pace with Madrid's primed middle which includes Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso. Kaka—under Mourinho—is unlikely to get a look in.

Yet as proved in their victory at the Etihad, when City played the storming Yaya Toure and ever-constant Gareth Barry, United can be ruthless once they get in behind an opponent, thanks largely to the quality of Robin Van Persie.

The flying Dutchman will be critical to United utilising the ball amid limited opportunities to get forward in Madrid. Though, City themselves managed to score two goals there and were all but assured a point until Vincent Kompany strangely decided to duck away from a typical Ronaldo poke. 

However it is that man Ronaldo who creates the perceived—perhaps actual—gulf between the two sides. Out of both squads, he alone has the proven and constant ability to take the ball and spring quick goals upon his opponents. 

After years of playing with him, Ferguson will hope and emphasise to his players that they better than anyone should know how to cope against him. It doesn't mean they will.

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