The headline stealing all of the news for Wednesday's Real Madrid versus Manchester United clash is Cristiano Ronaldo facing his former team, but there is more to the matchup than just that.
While Ronaldo will likely have an impact on the outcome of the match, there are other key players on both sides who get lost in the shuffle who are just as important to their team as Ronaldo is.
We know Ronaldo will show up, as will Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie for Man U, but here is a look at two players who will have just as big of an impact for both sides as the all-world strikers.
Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain don't do all the work, contrary to what some may think.
Both are exceptional forwards with a knack for finding the back of the net, but they are often put in positions to succeed because of their midfielders.
It starts with Alonso.
Dermot Corrigan sheds light on this fact, writing:
Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp has said the key to beating Real Madrid is not stopping goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo but taking playmaker Xabi Alonso out of the game.
Alonso's ability to provide the Madrid forwards with clean, crisp passes allows them to be in attack mode right when they receive the ball.
As was the case in Madrid's group stage defeat, and their draw with Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United will look to key in on Alonso for much of the game.
If they are able to slow him down and prevent him from collecting the ball in comfortable situations, then the outcome will be favorable for the Red Devils. If Man U doesn't contain Alonso, though, it could be a long day for their defense, as Alonso will feed Ronaldo and Higuain easy opportunities for goals.
Everyone knows what Manchester United has up front, but it is what they have in the back which will determine who wins this match.
Rio Ferdinand and the Man U defense will be given the task of slowing down Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and the rest of Madrid's playmakers. That is not an easy task in the slightest.
Indications are that Sir Alex Ferguson will have Phil Jones shadow Ronaldo for most of the game, but if the young 20-year-old is not up to the task, it will be the rest of the defense who must pick up the slack.
Jones will rely on the 34-year-old Ferdinand for support, as this will only be Jones' seventh Champions League appearance. The experience the Peckham, London native brings to the table is invaluable to United and will be additionally important today.
Ferdinand also has a plan on how to deal with Ronaldo—emotionally rattle him. The Madrid striker is known for his on-field antics and most of the time beats himself with his mental breakdowns. Ferdinand will try to take advantage of that by using the additional emotion of Ronaldo facing his former squad to shake up the Madrid forward.
Both of these players will have significant impacts on the outcome on the match Wednesday, as it should be one of the best this year.
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