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Rumors suggest Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson might leave star forward Wayne Rooney on the bench Tuesday to give United a more defensive posture against Real Madrid (via Daily Mail).
We can take that any of several ways. It might be true. It might be pure fiction. Or it might be a clever ploy on Ferguson's part to confuse Real Madrid.
No matter which it is, we know that Real Madrid do not want to concede Tuesday night. A Manchester United goal would not be fatal to Real's chances, but it would make the task even more difficult. If United score once, Real would have to score twice to stay alive.
Thus, the entire team's defensive contribution will be crucial. In addition to the centre-backs, the defensive midfield will be key for Real.
German international Sami Khedira and Spain international Xabi Alonso usually start together and form a double-pivot holding midfield in front of the back line. Their job is to shield the back four and link play to the attack. Besides his defensive duties, Alonso is also known for his superb passing ability.
Khedira and Alonso are two of the best in the business, but United have several potent attacking options. Robin van Persie has scored 19 goals in the Premier League this season, and Danny Welbeck scored United's goal in the first leg.
Over the weekend, Shinji Kagawa netted a hat-trick in United's 4-0 league win over Norwich City. Other midfield and striker options include Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and, of course, Rooney.
Queens Park Rangers midfielder Esteban Granero, formerly a Real Madrid player, said Alonso could be the key to Real's success (via London Evening Standard).
To me the most important player at Real is Xabi Alonso. Around him everything works. If he is in the game, everything works properly, then Real have so many players who can win the game, like Cristiano.
If Real manage to make Alonso work, the game will be more easy for them. If United can block Xabi it will be better for them. But to do that is very difficult. If you want to block Xabi you need to use at least two players and if you use two players there will be one free and this player can kill you.
Real's priority will be to score, but playing defense will be just as important. Khedira and Alonso will hold immense responsibility at both ends.