Manchester United vs. Real Madrid: Complete Champions League Preview
On Tuesday, Manchester United welcome Real Madrid to Old Trafford for one of the most hotly anticipated games of the season.
The first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie three weeks ago ended in a 1-1 draw, but in truth the game could have swung in the direction of either side.
Danny Welbeck and Cristiano Ronaldo etched their names onto the scoresheet then, setting up a fascinating rematch this week.
Here is a preview of the game, complete with injury updates, projected lineups and match facts.
Injuries and Suspensions
Having suffered an injury crisis of sorts earlier in the season, Manchester United are comparatively untroubled heading into Tuesday night's game.
Phil Jones may be the biggest omission from Sir Alex Ferguson's side, the defensive midfielder having picked up an ankle injury in the Red Devils' recent FA Cup win over Reading (via Fantasy Football Scout).
Real Madrid are expected to be without legendary keeper Iker Casillas for the clash, but with this exception, Jose Mourinho has a full team at his disposal.
Darren Fletcher: illness (out indefinitely)
Phil Jones: ankle injury (doubtful)
Paul Scholes: knee injury (doubtful)
Iker Casillas: hand injury (doubtful)
Manchester United: WDWWW
Real Madrid: DWWWW
Both Manchester United and Real Madrid enter Tuesday's game in the very best of form.
The Red Devils haven't lost a game since a Champions League dead rubber against CFR Cluj in early December.
That means Sir Alex's side has gone a total of 18 matches in all competitions unbeaten, a remarkable statistic considering the sheer number of games they've had to play in a relatively short period of time.
They most recently brushed aside Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League by scores of 4-0 and 2-0 respectively.
Having been left embarrassed following their 1-0 defeat at Granada in the first week of February, Real Madrid have bounced back terrifically.
As well as comprehensively thrashing Sevilla 4-1, Los Blancos have beaten Barcelona twice in the space of a week: in the Copa del Rey and in La Liga.
What might be a tad alarming for Jose Mourinho's side is the fact they've only kept one clean sheet in their last eight games.
Manchester United: David de Gea, Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie.
Real Madrid: Diego Lopez, Alvaro Arbeloa, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain.
Predicting the starting lineups that will take the field for the game has been one of the most fiercely debated topics for fans of both sides.
From a Manchester United perspective, the defence virtually picks itself with the exception of who will partner club captain Nemanja Vidic in central defence.
With Rio Ferdinand rested for the weekend's clash with Norwich, he appears the most likely candidate, though if Jonny Evans is given the responsibility, he should prove no less an alternative.
Sir Alex has already intimated that Welsh veteran Ryan Giggs will play some part in the action, most likely in holding midfield alongside Michael Carrick (via Sports Mole).
In attacking midfield, Nani and Antonio Valencia will battle for a place on the right wing, while Shinji Kagawa would be far more likely to start on the left flank in place of Ashley Young.
Jose Mourinho should name an almost identical team to the one which started at the Bernabeu three weeks ago, though Gonzalo Higuain could possibly replace Karim Benzema in attack.
Though Angel Di Maria has had his disagreements with Mourinho this season, he will play on the right side of attacking midfield, with German playmaker Mesut Ozil through the middle.
Pepe is a likely exclusion in central defence, with the young Raphael Varane his deserving replacement.
Manchester United: Wayne Rooney
With Robin van Persie going through a minor lean spell in attack for the Red Devils, more and more pressure is being placed on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney.
Though he too has been slightly off the pace in recent games, his second-half performance against Norwich on Saturday was excellent.
Rooney combined with Shinji Kagawa to devastating effect, the former supplying his teammate with tempting passes, the latter playing between the Canaries' lines in a way that he had previously not done since signing in the summer.
The English forward's stunning long-range goal in that game could give him all the confidence he needs to play a blinder against Real.
Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo
The obvious choice, but also the only one that could have realistically been made—Cristiano Ronaldo will be Real Madrid's key player Tuesday night.
He is the hub of all that is creative about his side and their most prominent threat going forward by some distance.
This season alone he has scored an astounding 39 goals in 40 games in all competitions, seemingly winning matches single-handedly at times.
Though he will start on the left flank, expect the Portuguese superstar to cut inside and try to have a significant effect on the game in any way possible.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a relatively poor head-to-head record against Jose Mourinho. He has only triumphed twice in 15 encounters.
This being said, the Portuguese coach has never won a European clash at Old Trafford.
Shinji Kagawa had only scored twice for United before his hat-trick against Norwich City at the weekend.
The Red Devils are still on track for what would be a remarkable treble—to claim Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup glory all in one season.
Cristiano Ronaldo has a relatively underwhelming goalscoring record at Old Trafford in the Champions League, having scored seven in 23 career appearances.
Angel Di Maria has racked up four assists in Europe against Manchester opposition this season—three against City and one against United.
Los Blancos have scored a total of 103 goals in 43 matches in all competitions this term.
The last time Real travelled to Old Trafford they were defeated 4-3, but won their quarterfinal tie 6-5 on aggregate.
What is your prediction for the Round of 16 second leg?