This match in the Champions League last 16 knockout stage against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium could not have come at a better time for Manchester United. They are 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League with just 12 matches left to play. They are in the last 16 of the FA Cup with a home tie against struggling Reading next Sunday at Old Trafford. They have also finally managed to shake off all the early season injuries which have dogged the team selection. That means that Sir Alex will have a full squad to choose from.
However, he is experienced enough to know that the tie will not be won tonight. That will happen in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in two weeks’ time. There are a couple of factors that will influence this tie in United`s favour.
Firstly, there is disharmony in the Real Madrid camp. Real is a highly politicised club. The top players have huge influence, especially the Spanish contingent. They have a direct line of communication with the president and they are taken more seriously than even the coach, Jose Mourinho. That is why he is unhappy and will leave at the end of the season. An unhappy dressing room spells disaster for any team, whoever they are.
Secondly, Real Madrid has to play Barcelona twice in the intervening period between the two matches with United. That would be a big ask for any team and more so for Real. Their fans will simply not allow Mourinho to play any sort of weakened team against deadly enemies, Barcelona. Their players face a punishing schedule and I personally do not think that they can cope with four such high profile matches without something snapping. I suspect that tonight may well end up as a draw. That will leave the return leg at Old Trafford to decide the winner. United are heavy odds-on favourites at Old Trafford and I think they will win that tie by at least two goals.
As far as tonight’s line-up is concerned, my sources from within the club have hinted at the following:-
David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Rafael, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie.
There is a slight possibility that he may play Evans instead of Ferdinand, but I doubt that, as Ferdinand was rested deliberately from the Everton match. Maybe Young will come on later as a substitute for Valencia.
My prediction for tonight is 2-2.