Tuesday 5th March 2013 Kick-off 19.45pm (GMT)
By Sean McGuire
Manchester United’s return leg against Real Madrid at Old Trafford is undoubtedly going to be one of the defining moments in their European history.
After United failed to get past the group stages in last season’s Champions League campaign followed by a lesson in Europe by one of Spain’s lesser teams Athletic Bilbao; the Reds European pedigree appeared to take a turn for the worst.
However this season they have managed to transfer their domestic consistency onto the continent and United’s first leg trip to the Bernabeu proved that this time around they can compete with Europe’s elite.
The second leg has all the ingredients to be one of those memorable games at Old Trafford. There is something special about big European nights at the Theatre of Dreams, it creates an atmosphere that can be rivalled by no other. It creates a reaction in the fans and players which tells us ‘This is where we want to be’.
Ever since United made their first venture into Europe, there has been a love affair with this competition that goes way beyond football. Manchester United were the pioneers of English clubs entering European competition and it was the visionary Matt Busby who saw the importance of playing against teams from other countries well before anyone else.
The Reds defied the Football Association by taking the Busby Babes to play against the best that Europe had to offer; and they soon realised that they were not only the number one team in England, but they were also one of the best in Europe despite their tender age.
Before the first leg of the competition United had met Real Madrid four times over the years in the European Cup, including their very first venture onto the continent with the Busby Babes in the 1956/1957 season. On this occasion United’s young side valiantly bowed out in the semi-final to a Madrid side who were in the middle of a run that saw them claim five European Cups in a row.
United lost 5-3 on aggregate, however a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford proved to the world that this young team could cut it with the very best, and were soon tipped to overtake Real Madrid as the kings of European football. Unfortunately this experience was the furthest in the competition that several of the players who played that day ever saw. Colman, Byrne, Edwards, Whelan and Taylor who all tragically died in the Munich Air Disaster were in the starting eleven that night in Manchester, however they were destined to never fulfil their potential.
Bobby Charlton, who scored in this first encounter, then had to wait eleven years to meet the Spanish Giants again. This also came in the semi-final of the European Cup, this time during the 1967/1968 season where after a taking a 1-0 lead to the Bernabeu, the Reds found themselves 3-1 down at half-time and 3-2 down on aggregate. As history would prove, United’s ability to comeback from the dead against any opposition is not a modern day phenomena as goals from David Sadler and Bill Foulkes helped United to salvage a 3-3 draw and eventually progress to the final. United laid some of their Munich ghosts to rest that year with victory in the final at Wembley, and Sir Matt Busby sought justification for daring to take an English team to play in a European competition.
The two most recent encounters with Real Madrid do not carry good memories for Manchester United, however they were both memorable none-the-less. In 1999/2000 United finally surrendered the Champions League trophy which they won so dramatically in 1999 after Madrid beat the Reds 3-2 at Old Trafford following a 0-0 stalemate in Spain. Three years later it was the famous Ronaldo show – where the Brazilian Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a virtuoso performance at Old Trafford which saw the three-time world player of the year receive a standing ovation by home fans. United won this pulsating match 4-3 at Old Trafford, however having lost 3-1 in the away leg it was always going to be an up-hill struggle against the eventual winners.
When Manchester United were drawn out of the hat to play Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League Campaign was dubbed the ‘perfect match’ by the media and with the two teams are so steeped in European history it is impossible to imagine a bigger game.
Hence what will prevail in the second leg at Old Trafford will be the perfect atmosphere. Think Barcelona in 1985 when United came back to win 3-0 in what is known to be the greatest atmosphere ever at Old Trafford. Think Porto in 1997 when United beat the unbeaten Portuguese champions 4-0 in the most high-tempo European game you will ever see. Think Inter Milan and Juventus in 1999 and the last-gasp 3-2 win over AC Milan in 2007. Think Barcelona in 2008. All these games were the apex of fans and players being at their brilliant best.
History and atmosphere tend to play a big part in Manchester United matches; however Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping that they can recreate the magic of 1968 with the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney rather than let another man called Ronaldo steal the show for nine-time winners Real Madrid in this last-16 fixture.
Manchester United go into this game with no new fitness worries, and only a few changes are expected to be made from the team that beat Norwich on Saturday.
David De Gea will start in goal and in front of him Vidic will partner Ferdinand in the centre-back positions. Evra will continue on the left of defence and Rafael will return to his right-back slot. Smalling, Evans and Buttner are also available.
Michael Carrick will start in midfield alongside Ryan Giggs, who is set to make his 1000th competitive appearance. Kagawa could start after his superb hat-trick at the weekend. Anderson, Cleverley, Young , Valencia and Nani are also available. Jones is doubtful; Scholes and Fletcher are still out through injury.
Robin van Persie will start up front, with Rooney and Welbeck likely to play deeper roles. Hernandez will be among the substitutes.
Real Madrid are one of two Spanish teams to have beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League (Deportivo La Coruña won 3-2, 19 April 2000).
United have only lost once in their last 14 Champions League home games (nine wins, four draws), the last one against CFR Cluj during the group stage this season.
The two Champions League encounters between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford have produced 12 goals.
United have conceded three goals in each of their two home games against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Real Madrid have only won once in their last five away games in England in the Champions League (two draws, two defeats), against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in April 2011.
Madrid have only failed to score once in their last 32 Champions League games, against Barcelona in the Bernabeu in April 2011.
Madrid have failed to keep a clean sheet in the Champions League this season (10 goals conceded).
United have had their woodwork rattled six times, the most of any side in the tournament this season.
Real Madrid have had the most shots in this season’s Champions League (154; - 56 more than United).
Sir Alex Ferguson has only won twice in his 15 competitive encounters against José Mourinho (seven draws, six defeats).
Only Didier Drogba has scored more headed goals (8) than Cristiano Ronaldo (7) in the Champions League since 2003/04.
Angel Di Maria’s four assists in CL 2012/13 have all been delivered against Manchester teams (3 against City, 1 against United).
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored seven goals in 23 Champions League games at Old Trafford. He has 16 goals in 18 games at the Bernabeu.
Manchester United: (from) De Gea, Lindegaard, Rafael, Buttner, Evra, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Ferdinand, Vidic, Carrick, Cleverley, Anderson, Giggs, Kagawa, Valencia, Young, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck, Van Persie, Hernandez.
Real Madrid: (from) Lopez, Ramos, Pepe, Defender, Varane, Albiol, Carvalho, Arbeloa, Coentrao, Marcelo, Nacho, Essien, Alonso, Khedira, Kaka, Modric, Ozil, Callejon, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuaín.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR)
Ground: Old Trafford
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