Manchester United’s return leg against Real Madrid at Old Trafford is undoubtedly going to be one of the defining moments in their European history.
It’s the ‘Match the whole world wants to see’ – Part Two, but the difference from the first leg is that the world will stop while watching it; according to Jose anyway. United have a remarkable European record at Old Trafford, having won 63 of their 94 matches there. Will Tuesday night's clash present another great European night?
A tie featuring two giants in the world football will surely have its moments to rejoice for the game lovers. Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford for the first time since he left in 2009, Ryan Giggs looking to reach 1,000-match landmark and Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho renewing their friendly rivalry once again. This will be a stuff of Champions and the team which will play to its strengths will emerge victorious.
After United failed to get past the group stages in last season’s Champions League campaign followed by a lesson in Europe’s second-tier Europa League by Spanish team Athletic Bilbao (which is lying in mid table this season); they have managed to transfer their domestic form into Champions League this season and this was visible in the first leg clash at the Bernabeu. United may feel it has a slight advantage courtesy of an away goal but the Spanish champions have hit form at the perfect moment, as shown by their back-to-back Clasico victories over Barcelona in the last week. With La Liga already gone, the priority for Madrid is simply the tenth European crown. Los Blancos have remained stationed on nine European Cups for too long. It has been that way for ten seasons now, having last lifted the famous trophy back in 2002. The club has grown impatient as Barcelona dominated and it was one reason why Jose Mourinho was hired by the club and, over the last two and a half seasons, why he has been granted more power than any other coach in the history of the club.
Before the first leg of the competition, Manchester United have met Real Madrid four times over the years in the European Cup, including their very first venture onto the continent with the Busby Babes in the 1956/1957 season. The two most recent encounters with Real Madrid do not carry good memories for Manchester United, however they were both memorable none-the-less. Going into the 1999/2000 season as the defending champions of the competition, Madrid beat the Reds 3-2 at Old Trafford following a 0-0 stalemate in Spain. Three years later, Madrid won the tie 6-5 on aggregate following a brilliant hat-trick by the Brazilian Ronaldo. This time around, a clean sheet will see United progress – but Ferguson expects goals, from both sides. Indeed, Madrid have scored in all 15 of their Champions League away matches under Jose Mourinho, a total of 27 goals.
History and atmosphere tend to play a big part in Manchester United matches; and that’s exactly what United manager would be hoping for this evening.
Manchester United go into this game with no new fitness worries apart from Phil Jones, who has been ruled out for United with an ankle injury (but anything can happen in Sir Alex’s world). David De Gea will start in goal; Jonny Evans will compete with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for a place in the starting XI, with right-back Rafael asked to perform a marking job on Cristiano Ronaldo. Michael Carrick will start in midfield alongside Ryan Giggs, who is set to make his 1000th competitive appearance. Kagawa could start after his superb hat-trick at the weekend. Anderson, Cleverley, Young, Valencia and Nani are all available. Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are certain starters and Danny Welbeck might sneak in too, while Javier Hernandez will wait for opportunity as the game will wear on.
Match Squad: (from) De Gea, Lindegaard, Rafael, Buttner, Evra, Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Vidic, Carrick, Cleverley, Anderson, Giggs, Kagawa, Valencia, Young, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck, Van Persie, Hernandez
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who is recovering from a broken left thumb, will not play at Old Trafford, despite being named in Real Madrid's squad. But Xabi Alonso, who did not play at the weekend, may start despite his long-term groin problem. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane might form the back line. Both German Internationals Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil are expected to feature. Cristiano Ronaldo will have a go at Rafael and Evra with his trademark marauding runs, but Mourinho might juggle between Benzema and Higuain, the former might be favoured due to his recent goal against Barcelona on Saturday.
Match Squad: (from) Lopez, Ramos, Pepe, Varane, Albiol, Carvalho, Arbeloa, Coentrao, Marcelo, Nacho, Essien, Alonso, Khedira, Kaka, Modric, Ozil, Callejon, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuain.
Real Madrid have only won once in their last five away games in England in the Champions League (two draws, two defeats), against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in April 2011.
Madrid have failed to keep a clean sheet in the Champions League this season (10 goals conceded).
Real Madrid are one of two Spanish teams to have beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League (Deportivo La Coruña won 3-2, 19 April 2000).
Angel Di Maria’s four assists in CL 2012/13 have all been delivered against Manchester teams (3 against City, 1 against United).
United have only lost once in their last 14 Champions League home games (nine wins, four draws), the last one against CFR Cluj during the group stage this season.
Sir Alex Ferguson has only won twice in his 15 competitive encounters against José Mourinho (seven draws, six defeats).
The two Champions League encounters between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford have produced 12 goals.
Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester
05 March 2013, 19:45 GMT
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR)
All statistics courtesy of Eurosport.