In what is one of the most anticipated matches in the past decade, Premier League leaders Manchester United will butt horns with nine-time Champions League winners Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday. The two teams come into the tie having drawn in the first leg four weeks ago.
United will relish being able to play at home, but will it prove to be an advantage? It will, to an extent, as the Theater of Dreams is an intimidating place for any team to come to.
But it is in these situations, when Manchester United is expected to attack and dominate the ball, that Madrid will take advantage of United’s high back line and launch lethal counterattacks.
With Phil Jones injured and unavailable, United are left with few viable options for that deep-lying central midfield position, usually the player responsible for breaking up counterattacks. Other than that, here’s what each lineup will look like for Tuesday’s match:
United will start with David De Gea in goal. He put on a clinic in goal last time these giants met, silencing critics while at it. In front of him will be Rafael, Vidic, Evans, and Evra. In midfield will be Kagawa, Rooney, Carrick, and Valencia. Van Persie and Welbeck will once again lead the attack. Kagawa is fresh off a hat trick against Norwich at the weekend.
Jose Mourinho will probably stick with a side similar to the one he used to beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey last week. There will be one major change, however, with Iker Casillas being given the all-clear to return to the Madrid goal.
In front of Casillas will be Arbeloa, (once United transfer target) Varane, Sergio Ramos, and Fabio Coentrao. The 4-2-3-1 will have Khedira and Alonso in deeper positions with Ronaldo, Ozil, and Di Maria in attacking midfield roles. Benzema will be the sole striker.
Evra and Rafael will push up the field to provide crosses for Welbeck and Van Persie and that is when Real will collect and distribute cross-field balls to Ronaldo and/or Di Maria, initiating a quick counterattack.
If United are to score, they will have to focus their attacking energy towards set pieces. This will, once again, provide the perfect groundwork for Madrid counterattacks, as Alonso, Khedira and Varane are all well-versed in how to make outlet passes that cause mayhem for opposition.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford should be a thrilling occasion in which he will use his speed and lethal finishing to brush aside a United side that will be wishing that they never let him go.