The biggest match of the UEFA Champions League so far will kick off this week when English giants Manchester United will take on Spanish champions Real Madrid.
The two sides shared a 1-1 draw in their first leg at the Bernabeu Stadium, and they will now take the field at Old Trafford knowing that their future in the competition is on the line.
Madrid have scored several huge wins since that first leg against United—beating rivals Barcelona twice in the space of a week. They defeated them 3-1 in the Copa del Rey semifinals—at Camp Nou—and then scored a 2-1 win in La Liga on the weekend to give them a huge confidence boost heading into their biggest match of the European season so far this year.
Manchester United too have been in blistering form of late, having continued their dominance in the English Premier League since the opening leg against Madrid. The Red Devils have conceded just two goals in their past eight domestic matches and are undefeated in their last 18 matches across all competition—giving them plenty of confidence here.
With a plethora of big-name players and attacking firepower, this round of 16 match is shaping as one of the more memorable matches this season.
Who will triumph in this clash between two powerhouses of world football? Read on for a full preview including all necessary the details, viewing information and more.
Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Start time: 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. local time)
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Live Stream and TV Info
Fox Soccer 2Go, SiriusXM FC, Fox Soccer Channel and FOX Deportes will all show coverage of the match throughout the United States (per Live Soccer TV).
ITV 1, BBC Radio 5 Live and UTV will do the same in the United Kingdom.
The Season So Far: Real Madrid
After a sluggish start to the season that saw them win just three of their first seven games, Real Madrid have bounced back well in La Liga to sit in third position. More recently, Los Blancos have won seven of their past nine fixtures—including big wins over Barcelona and Sevilla—and appear primed for big showing here against Manchester United as a result.
Jose Mourinho's side did draw 1-1 against United in the opening leg at home after squandering a number of good attacking chances to win the match, and could end up to rue those missed opportunities depending on how they fare here.
But with an away win at Barcelona just last week under their belts, Madrid will hold no fear traveling to Old Trafford and will no doubt back themselves to win.
The Season so far: Manchester United
The English Premier League season could not be more perfect for Manchester United at the moment, with the Red Devils cruising on top of the table. United have not been defeated since a shock loss back in November, 2012—beating the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton since then to take a 12-point lead that will surely earn them another domestic title.
Still competitive in the FA Cup also, United will know their chance at a treble rests in getting a result from this match against Real Madrid. They'll no doubt be keen to show their attacking potency more after being somewhat dominated in the opening leg, and if they can do that here, expect the Red Devils to be a real chance at snaring victory.
After all, they've won their last 11 home matches in a row and have conceded just three goals in their past nine league matches this season.
Key Matchup to Watch: Wayne Rooney vs. Xabi Alonso
Controlling the middle of the field will be pertinent for the attacking chances of both teams here, and having been simply outplayed in the first leg by Madrid, expect Manchester United to be desperate to try and assert themselves centrally here.
Striker turned midfielder Wayne Rooney has been in dynamic form all season and presents one of the toughest matchups for Madrid on the night. It's likely that Xabi Alonso becomes the man to track back and pick up Rooney—which could a profound impact on the final result here.
If Alonso can nullify Rooney, United will be forced to spread the ball wide to their wingers to try and get some attacking direction. They'll also likely have to resort back to their first-leg tactics, where they tried to hurt the Spanish champions with quick, counterattacking raids.
Whilst successful, it isn't the way to best utilize the attacking weapons that the Red Devils such as Robin van Persie, as well as Rooney himself.
However, if the England international can get the better of Alonso, and find the space in between the defensive and midfield lines that he does so well, the English giants will certainly be a chance here. Much like we saw recently against Norwich City, Rooney has the ability to carve open defenses at will with his precision passing and dynamic shooting, and he could to the same against Madrid here.
Look for Rooney to drop back down the field more and more in this one to try and spark further creativity into United's attack. Also look for Madrid's defensive line to push up on the Englishman and try to close out the space in behind Alonso and Mesut Ozil for him to operate.
The winner of that battle will likely be the winner of the match here.
Three Stats to Consider:
2. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has only managed two wins over Madrid boss Jose Mourinho in their 15 competitive encounters (seven draws, six defeats).
1. Manchester United have only lost once in their last 14 home games in the UEFA Champions League (nine wins, four draws). That came this season against CFR Cluj, when United's progression through to the knockout rounds was already guaranteed and they rested a number of key players.
31. Real Madrid have scored in 31 of their last 32 Champions League games, with their last scoreless appearance coming against Barcelona in April 2011.
What They're Saying
Psychologically, the team has strengthened after the Clasicos and we go to Manchester convinced we can go through. We gained a lot of morale by beating Barcelona again. It’s a tremendous satisfaction for the team.
We still have such a long way to go but the desire is to eliminate United at Old Trafford. We have a beautiful motto at Real Madrid — to fight until the end. And that is what we are doing to achieve our targets.
My biggest concern is if he [Ronaldo] turns up because you expect problems. We have to try and curtail that as best as we can. It won’t be easy, because he does it every week, it’s no accident with the lad, but he isn’t something we should fear. If we go in worried about the damage Cristiano can do, we forget what we can do ourselves.
We know our strengths and how we want to play. We know how to go about these games and hopefully it helps us. We are talking about two clubs with great history and it’s set up to be potentially a marvellous game.
I don’t think it will disappoint either.
It seems almost impossible to contemplate given the aura around this match, but the reality is that the winner here still has a long way to go in the tournament.
Whichever side progresses still has five more matches before they can claim the European title as their own which, despite the expectation and anticipation surrounding this fixture, is crucially important to remember for both teams heading into this one.
Real Madrid's confidence will be sky-high after the highly-discussed victories over Barcelona, and you must wonder what they will do for them here. They'll hold no fear traveling to Old Trafford, for the journey there cannot be any harder than going to Barcelona at the Nou Camp was.
United's defense will certainly be able to handle much of what the Spanish champions throw at them, but with Phil Jones already missing for the home side, you wonder if the likes of Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo are simply going to have too many chances here.
The home side do possess a great attacking display themselves, and will no doubt threaten their opponents, but defense will be the key here for United. If they allow Madrid to score more than once, they'll find themselves with a real challenge in front of them given the away-goal rule, and will not be able to break down their defense enough for victory.
I'd say a somewhat cagey first half is contrasted by an explosive second 45 minutes that will see the points split on the night, but Madrid through to the next round in another memorable Champions League fixture for the ages.
Final score: Manchester United 2, Real Madrid 2
(Real Madrid win 3-3 on aggregate, away-goal rule)
What do you think will happen in this Champions League fixture?
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