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Ahead Of Our Game Against Real Madrid

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When the draw was made, I wasn’t happy to see United facing Real Madrid in the Round of 16. People rattle off sayings like “to be the best you’ve got to beat the best” but I’d prefer the easiest route possible to give us the best chance of winning a fourth European Cup. The journey was a relatively easy one when we last reached the final in 2011, beating Marseille, Chelsea and Schalke to book our place in the final at Wembley. Barcelona certainly were the best and we didn’t come close to beating them, unfortunately. Would I have preferred to see Arsenal knock them out in the Round of 16, or Shakhtar Donetsk in the quarters, and us play one of those two sides instead of Barcelona in the final? Without a shadow of a doubt. Two European Cups for Sir Alex Ferguson is not an accurate reflection of the quality sides he’s produced at United and I’m desperate for him to win at least one more before he retires.

Still, if the road to success isn’t an easy one, there’s no point getting too downbeat about it, and there’s no denying I’m far more excited about tonight’s game than I would be a game against Porto or Malaga. Any frustration felt over being handed one of the tougher draws, despite finishing top of our group, soon melted away and was replaced with huge anticipation. Playing Real Madrid in the European Cup is as big as it could get for United and it will be interesting to see our manager and players face the challenge.

Whilst writing a preview for such a game, you can’t get too far in before mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo, who became the best player in the world at United, and, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, has got even better since leaving. Our manager says he’s at his “peak” now, but as former team mates like Patrice Evra have warned, he’ll never get the full credit he deserves over there when measured so competitively with Lionel Messi. Ronaldo is voted 2nd best in the Ballon d’Or every season and the fans aren’t anywhere near as appreciative of him as they should be. He has played 179 games for Real Madrid and scored 182 goals, which is quite simply a mind-blowing statistic. Still, this season is his fourth, and he’s won just one league title and hasn’t even played in a European Cup final yet. In six seasons at United he won four league titles, played in two European Cup finals (scoring our only goal in one of them) and won eight trophies in total. Ferguson famously talked about seeing a cow in another field and thinking it is better than your own, when reflecting on Wayne Rooney’s decision to leave the club, and you do wonder if some of this may apply to Ronaldo now. He always dreamed of playing in Madrid, it was definitely something he had to do, but you have to think his time there has fallen short of his expectations so far.

Ronaldo has today claimed that his heart is at United, he never stops singing the praises of the manager, and it is clear he holds a great deal of affection for the club. Still, that will all be put to one side tonight and he will give everything he has to be on the winning team. Rio Ferdinand has questioned whether the game will be too “emotional” for Ronaldo, but I reckon that’s wishful thinking. He had no problems playing well and scoring against Sporting Lisbon, the club he joined as a 10-year-old, when he played for United, so I doubt the occasion tonight will be too big for him. The question is, how will we stop him.

Gary Neville has said the only way to stop Ronaldo is to make sure that we stay tight to him. Phil Jones has been tipped as the player to man-mark him, as he has done so successfully against Bale and Fellaini in recent weeks, but Neville suggested it will take more than one person to stop him, if you can manage to stop him at all. Whilst he is clearly their best player, it would be foolish to think we can pile on to Ronaldo all the time and leave space for their other players, because they have plenty of players capable of doing damage, even if their league position suggests otherwise. They’re currently 16 points behind Barcelona and Jose Mourinho conceded the title ages ago. But to be successful in Europe is entirely different to being a success in the league, as Liverpool and Chelsea have both proven in recent years, with their awful teams who didn’t come close to competing in the Premier League somehow managing to lift the trophy. Mourinho is a quality manager, a great tactician, and we will be up against it tonight.

An article published on the blog earlier today suggested our possible formations for this evening, but it’s hard to predict what the manager will go with. You imagine the most obvious starters are De Gea, Rafael, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Rooney and Robin van Persie, but the other positions are up for grabs. You’d think that Rio Ferdinand would come in alongside Vidic, but then Jonny Evans has been great this season, and has only slowed down because of a recent injury. We have the option of padding out the midfield with Cleverley and Jones playing with Carrick, or we might opt with the formation and line-up that saw us beat City at the Etihad earlier this season, although Ashley Young has been out of the team for some time, meaning Kagawa might be used on the left.

These are the games that the European Cup is all about, the two biggest clubs in the world, although Ferguson said he would prefer this game to be played in the final. If we can get an away goal tonight and a narrow scoreline, even if that means losing 2-1, I will be happy enough with that. This is the “acid test” for this new team, who didn’t even get out of the group last season, and a real chance for them to prove themselves. Let’s hope they bloody well do it!

Come on United!

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About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. Xyth says:

    We will return victorius!!!

  2. Red Van Nistelrooy says:

    It’s like I’ve had a carton of Red Bulls. So so excited can hardly sit down. 3 hours to go.
    Get in there. Feel certain that Rooney will have a brilliant game! C’mon c’mon c’mon

  3. Bobby Charlton's combover says:

    The excitement is huge…fucking buzzing already, c’mon United.

  4. Costas says:

    No fear.

  5. kanchelskis says:

    Scott reckons Vidic is nailed on? I think he might be in for a surprise on that score






    2-1 to Madrid.

  6. Chicho The Lesbo says:

    I’m as huge a fan of Chicho as anyone, but if the little bugger enters the match at any point, that means we’re losing. I hope he doesn’t play. Sorry, lad.

  7. montanared says:

    If it 2-1 or 0-0 in the second half I could see both teams settling for that. Would love to see United score early(obviously). That would open up the whole tie and make both legs shoot outs. More likely though it will be tight in Madrid, Mourinho will be eager to show how brillliant he is and will try to over manage.Fergie will go with commitment and while some on here might not like it Welbeck, Rooney and Cleverly will all start.
    Tony V- Rooney- Welbeck

    Ando, Nani, RVP, Kagawa, available in second half, if we are behind.

    I know this could be totally wrong, but is so much fun trying to figure out what is going through the great man’s mind. In Fergie We Trust! Win,lose or draw tonight it is times like this that make me feel so lucky to be born a Red!! Up the Reds!

  8. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Hope the lads got some sleep last night! We need a performance tonight.
    Bet the physio was busy handing out little blue pills.

    Come on then time to show our class!

  9. kk says:

    An easy route results in failure. All our European title wins have been throught getting to the final the hard way. Tough matches make us serious so am happy with this tie. We shall win,and ugly. Surprise element is our best ploy. An early goal will make things exciting.

  10. In David We Trust says:

    King Eric – I think we do have some stupid fans who pick their team that has no cleverly, he is the reason why he has solved allot of our problems out in that area, PPL go on about how RVP has been the difference, no one should forget the problems cleverly has solved for united in the engine room. He has been as crucial to united, has VP has been. PPL forget, cleverly’s ability to press teams, his hold up play of the ball, the ability to nick the ball from sides, he is the closest player I have seen, the type of players barcelona have in midfield, where their midfield run around the pitch like a pack of wolves, press you, retention of the ball, and the great short passing game. Cleverly has elevated carrick’s game to where it was a few years back, and it is vital cleverly plays tonight. Dropping cleverly is like dropping one of rooney and RVP

  11. In David We Trust says:

    kanchelskis – again I am sorry, but there is no way the boss can drop cleverly, he is a guaranteed starter, having carrick and jones in a midfield 2 would be suicidal, when carrick likes to sit deep, and jones is an awful passer, he will run around the pitch, but it is about discipline, and cleverly brings discipline to the midfield, and important part? having possession, jones and carrick is an awful way to go

  12. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    I do agree with scott. real madrid were the number one team I wanted to aovid. i’d rather play cluj in a european cup final than Barcelona. I fucking hate difficult ties but oh well we’ve been paired. there’s no looking back now. Just put in your absolute best and we will win this tie.

  13. DohaRed says:

    God, I haven’t been this hyped up before a game for years. I can’t wait. 141 minutes to kick off.

  14. mezza says:

    1-1 IMO

    Very nervy game, not what we gonna see at Old Trafford, which is gonna be more open game….

    3-2 united after both games :)

  15. parryheid says:

    Going to be waiting patiently for the miscue/interception as they are passing the ball along the line as they cant get it forward due to us choking the middle then Bam our attack swings into action.Can I wonder we have a repeat of the City game 3 shots 3 goals. Oh to dream the possible dream.

  16. peluski20 says:

    Up man !! I hope Ferguson shud start Nani maybe his game cn cause dem a lot of problem 2 d Madrid side… B nevertheless, any player he choose i go 4 it

  17. TheRadLegion says:

    This Madrid game is nothing compared to the Juventus game when we won our treble. Sure I feel a bit nervous now, but that Juve game was a 4x90mins nerve-racking game.

  18. AlphaRS says:

    Juventus 2-0 up in Turin. The commentator said something like “….And Manchester United are 2-0 down in no time. They need a minor miracle now….”
    Up step Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole. “Full speed ahead Barcelona…!”

  19. NBI Red Onion says:

    Cut off the supply to Ronnie and their forwards. The defending from the front is going to be what determines our success as much as defending from the back.

  20. NBI Red Onion says:

    No point man marking Ronnie they have too many good players, they are not Everton.

  21. Red4ever says:

    Its time to show what we are made up of go reds go i’ll go for united to score the first and the last goal in the match 3-2 man united rooney brace and rvp 1 ,,my line ups

    David da gea

    Rafa vidic evans evra

    Nani carrick clevs kagawa


    Robin van persie

  22. NBI Red Onion says:

    My guess:

    DG – Ra, Vi, Ri, Ev – Na – Ca – Ro – Rvp – Pea

    is unlikely to be the starting formation.

  23. dazbomber says:

    Rafael to mark Ronaldo, lets play the team and not the occasion and we will win.

  24. NBI Red Onion says:

    Agreed don’t give them to much respect. Trigger happy ref, we need to watch the divers or it could be cards.

  25. UnitedFaithful says:

    Ronaldo will probably prioritize this game more than the upcoming el classicos.Hoping for him to have a stinker is wishful thinking at best.He is not one of the best player in the world for no reason.He always turns up at big games.We have to be at our best to deal with him.

  26. belfast red. says:

    Right cant stand this! Im working tomorrow but i need a pint! C,mon United. Gr8 line up btw. Degea rafa Ferdinand evans evra. Jones Carrick. Welbeck kagawa Rooney. Rvp.

  27. In David We Trust says:

    Starting jones ahead of cleverly is a huge mistake from the boss, I still not convinced with jones in midfield, and lack of width is going to be a huge problem, along with the lack of holding onto the ball, jones is going to give away some stupid free kicks, I am worried about the team he has picked tonight

  28. Jaydee says:


    Rafael Rio Evans Evra
    Carrick Jones
    Welbz Kagawa Rooney

  29. kanchelskis says:

    Told you so re Vidic.

    In fact, I called the whole team right, bar Welbeck for Valencia.

  30. NBI Red Onion says:

    Stupid hotel not showing game. Does anyone know a good livestream (for chromebook as well).

  31. UnitedFaithful says:

    A top notch defensive performance is what I want to see.The attack will sort itself out.

  32. Costas says:

    Glad to see Evans start this game. Not sure about the midfield to be honest. If Jones tracks Ronaldo around the pitch, that leaves Carrick quite outnumbered.

  33. Paul Scholes Jr says:

    Vidic missing from the squad….Not sure if I trust Evans in this big of a game.
    @InDavidwetrust: I agree, Jones hasn’t shown enough in the midfield for me. I would prefer the Clev, he did a good job in the City game earlier this season at containing Yaya.

  34. zigoo says:

    dayuuuuuuuuuum wheres vidaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

  35. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    no cleverley? COME ON. Cleverley is just as good a marker as jones and an infinitely better passer. disappointed clevs is not starting. welbeck needs to put in the performance of his life here. ANY chance you get you HAVE to take it. Keep things simple no unnecessary skill when you can just make a simple pass. try and retain the ball when you have it and not give it back to them after only five secs of possession. COME ON BOYS!!!! SHOCK THE DOUBTERS!!!

  36. In David We Trust says:

    We got to play is well, and I am very surprised he has gone with jones, who is guilty of giving the ball away, we got to sometimes taking the sting out of the game, very dissapointed in the team. If we played cleverly instead of jones, I would have been quiet happy with the team. Its all about possesion, and that team is going to be very hard to keep hold of posession, it was just tailermade for cleverly

  37. Sonneveld says:

    No Vidic hurts

  38. Seanzo says:

    Where the hell is Vidic?!

  39. utdforever says:

    Gotta trust the manager on this one boys.. COME ON YOU REDS!!

  40. King Eric says:

    utdforever – Exactly pal.

  41. In David We Trust says:

    Scholes and costas – how the hell are we shaping? Because jones cannot possibly be man marking because of the shape of the team. Welbeck must be doing that job, jones job is very overrated, that could easily be given to cleverly, who does not give away cheap free kicks. Cleverly should have started, and I am afraid we will be talking about fergie picking the wrong side, I have said it to death, we got to keep the ball, and jones is not the sollution, he is the problem. With no width, we have a big big big problem. Look at how we shaped in the second half against everton, cleverly and carrick sat deep, and we were playing it, anyone notice when jones started we could not get the ball

  42. TheRadLegion says:

    Totally and those words are glued on my mind up til today. It was a magnificent game of football.
    What I forgot to mentioned was the build up to the first game was very intense.

    People may forget that, back then, beating an Italian team was considered a mission impossible. Italian league was considered to be superior. Going there was an impossible task for many but we managed to beat them and eventually won the cup.

    Yes, tonight’s result can go either way but in terms of the pre-game tension, I don’t feel tense at all.

  43. King Eric says:

    IDWT – Yes pal but when Jones went off Fellaini got in the game.

  44. Dela says:

    Line Up is not exactly what I expected, but hey, I’m sure Fergie has a plan and he’s going to execute it, In Fergie I trust…

    I want a goal and not to get hammered…. 1-0 would be excellent… 1-1 would be great….. a 2-1 loss is acceptable to bring back to Old Trafford….. please though no worse than that. SCORE!!!

  45. In David We Trust says:

    Utdforever – yes I agree, but the boss has got a few things wrong in the past, many forget the blueprints of how we beat shitty this season, and he has got the team wrong. In terms of shape. We are teqhnically playing with one recognisable cm in madrid, and that is suicidal, we saw this against barca in the final, and we got destroyed. Yes madrid are not has good, but their midfield is better today, because of cleverly been left out which would not have seen us get overrun

  46. TheRadLegion says:

    I don’t think he will man-mark Ronaldo to be honest with you. I think SAF watched the 3 games Madrid lost this season in particularly the Betis game, they don’t necesarilly man mark Ronaldo. They were very careful to not giving Real a chance to counter attack. This is the area where they (esp Ronaldo) are very good at.

    Closing down the space will be the key that’s why Rooney was playing ahead of our usual wingers. Welbeck tracks back better and read the game better than Valencia, this has been proven.

    SAF might say we need to attack, in reality he might told them otherwise.

  47. Dela says:

    IDWT – Tom Cleverley is a “recognised midfielder” ? I’m not hating on the lad, but Kagawa and Carrick are more “recognized” than he is if it comes to it. Again, not hating him, love the guy.

    I’m not sure what Fergie wants with this, but as a friend pointed out to me, we went out of Europe a lot of times for not being cautious enough, we got strung by the away goal rule more than once, so having 5 proper defenders on the pitch is not the worst thing either.

  48. In David We Trust says:

    King eric – I am worried about united not holding onto the ball enough, and jones ability to lose posesion and giving away stupid fouls, we got to be disciplined and keep the ball. Falleni did not do much even when jones went off. I can see madrid having the ball too much, if you gonna play jones, play both carrick and cleverly, so jones can have the free role. Starting him in a 2 man midfield against madrid, is possible suicide

  49. parryheid says:

    Jones it appears is in for the Alonso job.

  50. In David We Trust says:

    Kagwa is not a cm, and that is the difference. Kagwa is a more david silva type player, roams on the left and cuts inside, he is not someone who anqers the midfield and controls games. Carricks best form has from the partnership with tom cleverly, who is great pressing teams, holding the ball, and doing a disciplined job. Kagwa and jones are not for that job, and that is the difference, and that is the difference, and that is my worry


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