Why Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Phil Jones Will Be Key as Real Madrid Take on Man Utd

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 09:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts during the la Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Sevilla FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 9, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho will lock horns again on Wednesday afternoon as Real Madrid host Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Devils boss has shown a penchant for individual planning in recent weeks and knows he has to come up with some method of stopping Cristiano Ronaldo.

Phil Jones is the answer to his prayers.

January's bout between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane saw what some consider a dry run for stopping the Portuguese winger.

Fergie used a diamond-esque midfield and a disciplined Jones, Rafael and Rio Ferdinand to wall Gareth Bale out of the game and stop him from exerting great influence on proceedings.

Jones took up the right-central midfield slot and tracked him doggedly, while Rafael was not his rampant self.

When Spurs tried to play Bale in over the top, Ferdinand was quick to slide out and deal with the danger promptly.

Unfortunately for them, Aaron Lennon tormented Patrice Evra on the other side one-on-one, but they still came away with a draw and only conceded during the final seconds of play.

This weekend, we saw Jones deployed in a man-marking role yet again. This time, he nullified Marouane Fellaini and stopped him from creating and shooting.

The Belgian played his usual central role in behind the striker and this wasn't a case of isolating him on the edge, but it proved Jones is strong enough and determined enough to stick with the most intimidating of somatotypes.

It was telling that Jones was subbed on the 56th minute—any slight concern and Fergie hauled him off with the Real Madrid game in mind.

Ferguson has become much more willing to recognise and plan for threats in the opposition's ranks this season. It might not be a midfield diamond, but expect United to flood the middle of the park at the Santiago Bernabeu and make sure space is at a premium.

Ronaldo, playing as a left forward, is still averaging more than one goal a game for Real Madrid even after netting over 200, so he's the clear candidate to stop.

Expect a tempered performance from Rafael once more and a dogged 90 minutes from Jones. The only concern for Fergie will be whether Ronaldo drags Jones too far out so they lose a man, but just like Bale, the Portuguese has a tendency to come inside.