Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has promised goals when they travel to the Bernabeu for the first leg of their Champions League Round-of-16 match with Real Madrid.
In the now legendary encounter between the two European giants at the quarterfinal stage back in 2000, the first leg finished goalless in Madrid, which was seen as a good result for United at the time. However, the failure to get an away goal proved costly as Madrid stunned the then-Champions League holders with a 3-2 victory at Old Trafford.
While cautioning that his side will not be reckless in their approach, Ferguson is confident that there will be goals on Wednesday.
“The intention of Manchester United is always to try to win and to score, which can sometimes lead to chaos,” he admitted, according to UEFA’s Web site. “We have to balance that with a sense of responsibility and make sure we don't leave the door open.
“It won't be 0-0 tomorrow. There will be goals and the game can of course live up to expectation.”
United’s form has improved as the season has progressed and they now own a 12-point lead in the Premier League. There are still plenty of critics that claim that United’s lead is more a product of a poor league and Ferguson is well aware that the two legs against Madrid will provide a stern assessment of his side’s credentials.
“It is a good time to play Madrid, because we have a fantastic lead in the Premier League and we have everyone fit,” he said.
“We have a good chance [this season], but the acid test is tomorrow and we have to get through that if we want to win it,” he later added.
While United’s form has been on the up, Madrid appear to have descended into further internal conflict that has left their chances of retaining the Liga title in tatters. There has been a suggestion since the beginning of the season that the focus is on claiming an historic 10th European Cup and there can be little doubt that their campaign will now be judged on whether that achievement is realized. But despite that, as well as the perceived desperation for Jose Mourinho to become the first coach to win the trophy with a third different team, the Portuguese manager has been trying to minimize the pressure.
“It won't be a disaster if we don't win the Champions League,” he said. “There are some great teams and coaches who never won it. Real Madrid want to win their 10th [European] title and I want to win my third. I don't want to finish my career with two.”
Mourinho also summed up the anticipation ahead of this mouthwatering tie.
“That the press room is full is indicative of what this match represents in the world of football,” he explained. “We are waiting for a great match—it's what we all want.”
Even the most ardent United fan may be willing to admit that Madrid's squad is superior in quality. When the match was drawn back in December, Madrid, if not clear favorites, were certainly the smart bet to progress to the last eight. Things have changed for both clubs since then, though.
United have undoubtedly improved and are controlling games rather than relying heavily on wild comebacks led by talisman Robin van Persie. At the same time, at Madrid there have been consistent reports of dressing room splits and in particular a falling out between Mourinho and the experienced Spanish duo Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos.
Yet, for all Madrid’s struggles, their home form has been consistently impressive throughout the season. In La Liga, they have won nine and drawn two of their 11 games at the Bernabeu. In their last five home encounters they have scored 15 goals and conceded two. The only game they failed to win in that spell was when playing very well in a 1-1 result with Barcelona.
Mourinho is likely to consider that Madrid need to take a positive result back to Old Trafford. A goalless final score would certainly be acceptable to Los Blancos, but, as Ferguson suggests, that looks unlikely.
United should be boosted defensively with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand linking up in a rare appearance together and Phil Jones could also add extra protection in front of the back four. Despite their improvement, there are doubts whether this United side are capable of shutting a game off defensively.
In the Bernabeu against a side that, with Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, is so dangerous on the counter attack, United’s offensive DNA could see them punished. However, their ability going forward should see the tie remain firmly in the balance heading back to Manchester for the second leg.
Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester United