Follow live text commentary as Manchester United take on Spanish giants Real Madrid at Old Trafford in the UEFA Champions League.
So, here’s the thing. You’re the manager of a team that has to go to Old Trafford for the second leg of a tie, after only managing a 1-1 draw at home. You’ve got a plan of how to go about getting the required result. Now, if only there was a way to have a dress rehearsal against one of Europe’s top teams in their own backyard to see how your plan would work, that would be lucky. If you played that game and your plan worked like a charm, that would be brilliant! Some people say that it’s better to be a lucky manager than a brilliant one. Truth be told, it’s probably best to be both!
So when Jose Mourinho rocked up at the Camp Nou with his Real Madrid team looking to get a positive result from the Copa del Rey game, he could perhaps have been described as ‘lucky’ for having the bonus of a rehearsal for the Manchester United game. When the final whistle was blown, and los Blancos trotted back to their dressing room with a 1-3 victory tucked away, after a game in which the Blaugrana had been comprehensively outplayed, he could also have been described as ‘brilliant.’
Deploying his pacey duo of Ronaldo and Di Maria in the spaces vacated by Barca’s ‘full backs cum wingers’ Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, as they drove forward, reprised the tactical acumen of Di Matteo’s Chelsea when, in defeating Barca, he played Ramires in the same role to exploit Alves. This was however much more than looking for gaps and filling them. The supposedly suspect defence of Madrid was a solid match for all of Barca’s prompting and probing. Messi‘s possession was snuffed out at source, and orchestra leader Xavi was largely anonymous. Sure, the home fans at least had a goal to cheer, but by that time, the game was wrapped up and safely ensconced in Mourinho’s pocket.
It would of course be folly to say that Barca and Manchester United are the same. Their approach to the game is significantly different. That said, there are some significant similarities. Both teams will want to attack, despite the advantage of the away 1-1 draw. Both will dominate the possession stats. And most significantly perhaps, Mourinho gets under the skin of both clubs’ fans, meaning the crowds will be driving their teams forward.
With their rehearsal safely completed the Spanish champions will have no fear of Old Trafford, and Mourinho will not only have a plan, but will have filled his team with belief. This tie is a good way from over and if, as happened at the Camp Nou, Madrid score first, United will have it all to do to redeem themselves. I’ve just got this image in my mind of the ghost of ‘Christiano past’ haunting those that once lauded him and Mourinho proving that not only is he lucky enough to have Ronaldo in his team, he’s brilliant enough to use him to win the game.