Real Madrid vs. Manchester United: Key Matchups in Champions League Fixture

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IDecember 20, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 06:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson the manager of Manchester United face the media during a press conference held at Old Trafford on April 6, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The most exciting matchup possible in the Champions League Round of 16 was Real Madrid versus Manchester United, and at the knockout stage draw on Thursday, football fans' wishes came true.

These two sides haven't met since 2003 when 11 goals were scored over the two legs, with Madrid earning a place in the semifinals.

The main story is Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford, where he was a Manchester United player for several years and won the European Cup with the club in 2008.

He has not returned to United since leaving the club to join Madrid in the summer of 2009, but the Spanish club did play Manchester City in the group stage of this year's competition.

Let's look at the key matchups that will decide this fixture, and result in one elite European club's Champions League campaign ending earlier than expected.


Jose Mourinho vs. Sir Alex Ferguson

The two best managers in world football are Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson.

These men have been rivals since 2004 when Mourinho's FC Porto knocked United out of the competition in 2004 en route to a European title. Mourinho joined Chelsea later that year.

These two managers have only faced each other one time in Europe's greatest club competition after the 2004 fixture, and that was in 2009, when Mourinho's Inter Milan side were defeated by United 2-0 on aggregate.

Both men are brilliant tacticians and do a remarkable job setting up their teams to exploit the opponents' weaknesses. The adjustments they make before and during these two legs will have a major impact on their clubs' success.

Mourinho is under pressure to win the Champions League at Madrid since it's the only trophy he has yet to lift with the Spanish club, and his previous success in this competition was probably the main reason why Madrid hired him.

This will be the only Round of 16 fixture where the managers are talked about just as much as the players on the pitch. Mourinho and Ferguson will add another chapter to their amazing rivalry in February, and watching it unfold will be quite exciting.


Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Rio Ferdinand

Ronaldo will dominate the spotlight throughout this fixture, and his performance on the pitch will likely be the difference for Madrid.

He averaged a goal per game during the group stage, and since most of Madrid's forwards have been sub-par for most of the season, Ronaldo will be expected to dominate against a United defense that has already allowed 24 goals in Premier League play. 

It will be amazing to watch Ronaldo handle the pressure of returning to Old Trafford. One mission he hasn't been able to accomplish in his Madrid career is becoming a European champion, and he will be very motivated to not allow United to ruin this dream.


Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney vs. Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is one of the best centre-backs in world football because of his strength, pace, heading ability and defensive intelligence.

Ramos will have some difficult assignments in this fixture because United forwards Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are two of the best attacking players in the world.

United scored only nine goals in the group stage and this duo was responsible for four of them, so if Ramos and the Madrid defense can defend Rooney and Van Persie well, they will have a great chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

It's hard to imagine United reaching the next stage of the competition if Rooney and RVP do not perform at a high level.