Manchester United host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League second-round meeting at Old Trafford. The two sides drew the first leg 1-1 when a Cristiano Ronaldo goal leveled the match after Danny Welbeck put United in front.
The tie is still very much in the balance. Here are three keys to defeating Real Madrid and securing a place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League:
1. Cut off the supply lines to Ronaldo
As seen in the first leg of the tie away at the Bernabeu, man-marking great players can only work for so long. Ronaldo's style of play works by finding the weaknesses inherent in teams and exploiting them—it is something he has always done and will always do.
The best way to negate him is to negate the "lesser"—for lack of a better word—players that surround him, in the hope that that negates him as well.
2. Employ zonal marking and avoid isolation
It's not unusual to hear criticisms of zonal marking from football pundits and fans alike, especially when it comes to defending corner kicks, but away from the penalty box and in the middle third of the field it is to a manager what gold is to a miner.
While, admittedly, zonal marking might not always stifle the individual brilliance of Madrid players such as Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria, it does work to slow down the impetus of these players and force them into less appealing areas of the pitch where they will pose less of a threat.
Avoiding isolation is another important task for United. Manchester United full-back Rafael was tormented in the first half of the first leg by Ronaldo and Ozil mainly because he was left on his own to fend off Madrid's attacks on the right. At Old Trafford, given a second shot at it, that may not be a risk United will want to take as Di Maria showed when he left Barcelona's Carles Puyol in a heap on the floor in last weekend's Clasico.
3. Manchester United players must express themselves
One of the more recent tendencies of the English media when Spanish sides play English teams is to give such high credit to the foreign side that they forget the capabilities of the English team.
Much like Madrid, United are blessed with some incredible players. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are world-class players, while the likes of Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa and David de Gea among others are capable of winning games through their contributions.
United must not get caught in the occasion—Ronaldo's return and Jose Mourinho's future are events in their own right. They should approach the game with humility and respect for their opponent's achievements and abilities, but also get the ball down and show that they deserve to share the same pitch.
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