The tactical mind games between two of the game’s great managers is likely to be crucial in determining which of Manchester United and Real Madrid move through to the Champions League quarterfinals.
With his side having got the away goal in Madrid and given the opposition’s incredible counter-attacking threat, Ferguson is likely to try and curtail his attacking instincts at Old Trafford. His probable game plan has been disturbed, though, by an injury to Phil Jones.
The versatile youngster performed a key role in the Bernabeu, shielding the back four from being run at by Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria. United’s squad does not really possess another player who can do a similarly disciplined job.
Ferguson has said that Ryan Giggs will play some part to make his 1,000th appearance and, with, the Welshman in good form, there is every chance he will get the start alongside Michael Carrick. While Giggs has his qualities, his selection would leave United extremely vulnerable to being overrun in the center of the pitch as they were earlier in the campaign against sides with comparable pace such as Tottenham.
Other options for Ferguson are Tom Cleverley, who has plenty of energy but is better going forward, and Anderson, who can perhaps provide the best combination of defensive and offensive industriousness, but would be a risk to rely upon on such a big occasion.
The other selection dilemma for Ferguson is in the center of defense. Jonny Evans was excellent in the first leg, but there is a strong suggestion that United’s long-standing first-choice pair of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic may be reunited. Vidic played on Saturday, but has now claimed that he is ready, after two serious injuries, to play two games in a week.
Further forward, Shinji Kagawa’s hat-trick at the weekend has surely put him at the forefront of Ferguson’s thinking—if he wasn’t already. It appears likely that the United boss will go with a similar attacking lineup as in Madrid, with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck’s work rate being utilized on the flanks and Kagawa’s energy and creativity seeing the Japan international deployed behind Robin van Persie.
In comparison, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho’s team selection would appear to be more straightforward. The midfield picks itself, with Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso anchoring and Ronaldo, Ozil and the back-in-form Di Maria behind a lone striker.
The identity of the forward in the Madrid side is still in doubt. Gonzalo Higuain looked poised for the start after Karim Benzema’s poor performance in the first leg, but the Frenchman’s goal against Barcelona on Saturday may have given Mourinho second thoughts.
Mourinho’s other selection headache is at the back. The form of young French defender Raphael Varane means he has to start, which means breaking up the regular partnership of Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Mourinho may well move Ramos to right-back where he is an accomplished performer and even adds more of an attacking threat to incumbent Alvaro Arbeloa.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael. Evans, Ferdinand, Evra
M: Carrick, Giggs
Rooney, Kagawa, Welbeck
F: Van Persie
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Coentrao
M: Khedira, Alonso
Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo
Real Madrid are the favorites with the bookmakers to make it through to the quarterfinals. Simply to progress, Madrid are priced at 4/6 with Paddy Power, with Manchester United at 11/10.
Madrid are also favorites to get the victory on the night, at 11/8, while a United win is available at 2/1. A draw after 90 minutes is priced at 12/5.
Where to watch
The second-leg of the Champions League last-16 tie will lick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go.