The UEFA Champions League will pit two of the biggest teams in world football against each other when Real Madrid take on Manchester United in the round of 16.
The reigning Spanish champions have won the most prestigious tournament a record nine times throughout history, and will be looking to build on the heartbreak of last year, which saw them eliminated on a penalty shootout in the semifinals to Bayern Munich.
Manchester United are also no slouches when it comes to the European field, having clinched the title three times in their history, and have also made the final in three of the past five years. They are the league leaders in England and one of the strongest clubs in world football, and will certainly be up for this mouth-watering Champions League clash.
The hype and anticipation around this round of 16 clash could not be greater; read on for a full preview and prediction for the first leg of this Champions League match.
Date: Wednesday, 13 February, 2013
Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid
Live stream and TV info
FOX Deportes, Fox Soccer Channel, SiriusXM FC, Fox Soccer 2Go will all show coverage of this all-important Champions League encounter in the United States.
Sky Sports 2/HD and Sky Sports Events Centre will both carry the match throughout the United Kingdom, according to LiveSoccerTV.com.
The season so far: Real Madrid
Real Madrid consolidated on their third place in La Liga over the weekend with a 4-1 victory over Sevilla, which included a hat-trick to Cristiano Ronaldo.
The La Liga champions will most likely see their domestic title fall to rivals Barcelona this year, however, who are a full 16 points clear of Los Blancos heading into the back part of the season, and don't look for one minute like slowing down.
Jose Mourinho's side have struggled in the Spanish competition somewhat this year, with as many away losses as they have wins. Which, given their success last year and complete domination of La Liga, is very significant.
They'll be looking for a strong performance here in the Champions League to try and rectify their wrongs so far this season, and given the strength they showed throughout the group stages earlier, they will certainly have a chance of achieving that.
Madrid qualified out of a group of champions in Group D (also known as the Group of Death) with wins over English champions Manchester City the key to their progression. Not that it was ever in doubt for the Spanish powerhouse, who seemingly always step up for the Champions League.
The season so far: Manchester United
United have had a far different season to that of Real Madrid—dominating the English Premier League and extending their lead to a whopping 12 points on the weekend.
United cruised to a 2-0 home victory over Everton at Old Trafford, and with just 12 weeks remaining in the domestic season, are perfectly poised to take home another league title and triumph over rivals Manchester City once more in 2013.
Talk of a potential treble is the last thing that the Red Devils will be speaking about, but they too would love to better their Champions League record with a win here.
United have been very strong in the European competition in recent history, making three of the past five finals, but couldn't even get through the group stages last year. They've already bettered that with a first-place finish in the group this year and are now looking ahead to Madrid.
The Spanish champions will be by far the toughest team that Sir Alex Ferguson's men will have played in the competition this year, but that certainly doesn't mean they can't win this one. Given their domestic form and incredible attacking depth, United could very well enter this round of 16 clash as favorites by the time it finally gets underway.
Key matchup to watch: Mesut Ozil vs. Tom Cleverley
With two teams boasting a number of great and brilliant players right across the pitch, the potential matchups to choose from are incredibly numerous.
Yet, the one between Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil and Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley could well end up being the most important of them all.
Ozil is a dynamic passer of the ball who controls the Madrid midfield wonderfully. He creates a number of great goal-scoring chances per game and is a true giant in the middle of the park—something that Cleverley will be looking to bring under wraps.
The youngster has grown into his role in central midfield this year and will most likely be tasked with more defensive duties in this first leg away from home than usual—meaning he could well end up picking up Ozil in the middle of the field.
The England international has a solid defensive game that can get a bit brash at times, but also has the potential to throw an opponent off their game.
Expect Sir Alex Ferguson to look to Cleverley here as a potential game-changer for United to ensure that they don't fall behind on aggregate after the first leg.
Three stats to consider:
0: Manchester United have never won when playing away to Real Madrid. Their four Champions League encounters have produced two draws and two losses.
0: Real Madrid have kept zero clean sheets in the Champions League so far—conceding the most goals out of any team to have qualified for the knockout stages. United, by comparison, have scored the most goals this year in the English Premier League.
30: Jose Mourinho's side have scored in 30 of their past 31 Champions League matches. Their last scoreless match was against Barcelona in April 2011.
Given that this round of 16 clash will be played over two legs, expect Real Madrid to try and do everything they can to get some sort of advantage here with the home ground in their favor.
Mourinho will line up the strongest attacking team that he can, but will no doubt also be wary of the great threat that United pose on the counterattack. The Red Devils have blistering pace on the wings in Antonio Valencia as well as dynamic finishers in the middle with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney—all of which will be called into action for this huge clash.
Ferguson is unlikely to try and play too defensively here, for he knows that his team's best chance at getting through this clash is to attack well themselves.
United's defense has improved a lot lately, and so the veteran manager will have much more confidence in the back four that he has, regardless of the attacking talent that they will come up against from the Spanish champions.
Expect both teams to kick it up a gear here, but given the sheer talent existent in the Red Devils' attack and the form that they're in, it's hard to go past the Premier League leaders from imposing some sort of control against Madrid.
I'd say an early United goal is followed by two goals after half-time for Ronaldo, before a late Van Persie goal sees the final score finish as 2-2, with United holding a key advantage heading back for the return game at Old Trafford.
Final score: Real Madrid 2, Manchester United 2
Real Madrid or Manchester United? Who ya' got?
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