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Real Madrid vs Manchester United: Under-the-Radar Players in Massive Tie

Raphael Varane (R) has emerged as a terrific player for Real Madrid.
Raphael Varane (R) has emerged as a terrific player for Real Madrid.Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Alex GruberFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2013

It is almost here. The matchup we have all been waiting for.

Even Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho admitted this is the "match the world is waiting for." With a berth in the Champions League quarterfinals at stake, players for both Manchester United and Real Madrid will have to step up and give their best performances.

Obviously, the spotlight will be on players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, and Wayne Rooney. But there will be 19 other players on the pitch at any given time, and some of them could prove just as significant.

Here are a couple of those names, one from each squad.

 

Raphael Varane

A somewhat peripheral figure for much of his tenure in Madrid, defender Raphael Varane surged into the public eye with a stunning display in last month's Copa del Rey first-leg match against Barcelona.

The 19-year-old pretty much shut down Lionel Messi and bagged a crucial equalizer in the dying minutes.

Varane followed up that performance with a solid showing in the shock defeat to Granada. He has shown fantastic composure that belies his tender age, and only a hamstring injury kept him out of Madrid's 4-1 drubbing of Sevilla last weekend.

This week, he gets to go up against the likes of Rooney and van Persie, both of whom have been sensational in recent weeks. With Pepe back to full fitness, the Portuguese centre-back will be slotted into the starting XI.

But Mourinho must find room for his young Frenchman—even if it means moving Sergio Ramos to right back.

 

Michael Carrick

In a match with such great star power at the forward position, the hard workers in the middle of the pitch will often be overlooked. Madrid's duo of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira get good publicity, but United counterpart Michael Carrick is still going largely unnoticed.

In United's recent draw against Carrick's former team, Tottenham, the midfielder put on a top show. He was hugely effective in marshaling Spurs threats like Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey, holding down the fort to keep his back line protected.

The Englishman has been one of United's most consistent performers all season, bringing these improved defensive abilities to pair with his solid work as a ball mover.

Carrick's hard work will be crucial in shutting down the likes of Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria in midfield.

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