UEFA Champions League 2013: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid UCL Preview

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 26:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his sides opening goal during the Copa del Rey semi final second leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at the Camp Nou on February 26, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Manchester United did what they needed to do in the first leg of their Champions League matchup with Real Madrid. The Red Devils earned a draw at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and return to Old Trafford with a golden opportunity to reach the quarterfinals.

Madrid enters the second leg with a lot of momentum, though. The Blancos are coming off back-to-back El Clasico victories over rival Barcelona, including a convincing 3-1 triumph on the road to advance to the Copa del Rey final.

United have also gone unbeaten since the first leg, but all three of their wins came against inferior competition in the likes of Reading, QPR and Norwich City. The level of play will obviously be much higher against an extremely talented Madrid side.

As usual, the Blancos' attack will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo, who's tied for the tournament lead in goals with seven. The interesting thing about the former United star's production as of late is when he scores, he tends to do it in bunches.

Of the last seven matches in which Ronaldo has scored a goal, six times he scored more than one. Over that same stretch, he's been held without a goal seven times. So keeping him from taking over the match early is a huge key for United.

The Red Devils will counter with the dynamic duo of Robin van Persie, who's second in the Premier League in goals, but is four behind Ronaldo in UCL play, and the reliable Wayne Rooney. The pair has come a long way since the beginning of the campaign in terms of working together.

Both attacks also feature plenty of secondary options. From Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa, who netted a hat trick over the weekend, for United to Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema for Madrid, both sides are well stocked in players capable of making a major impact.

That said, don't be surprised in the X-factor ends up being Madrid defender Raphael Varane. The 19-year-old center-back has quickly established himself as one of the most promising players at the position, holding his own in matches against Barcelona.

His ability to provide stability along the back line, which will help keep Van Persie and Rooney at bay, while also being able to join the attack when necessary makes him a valuable resource. And it gives United something else to worry about.

The hype surrounding this match is incredible, which isn't a surprise given the high-profile nature of both clubs. The good news for fans is that it should have no problem living up to expectations. Both sides should be in attack mode from the opening whistle.

Ultimately, the form Real Madrid showed to knock off Barcelona twice in a row, the second time without a couple key contributors, is impossible to overlook. They should be able to escape Old Trafford with a spot in the next round.

Prediction: Real Madrid 2, Manchester United 1