Real Madrid Vs. Manchester United, UEFA Champions League 2013: Previewing the Clash of the Titans

Jasper Juinen

Real Madrid and Manchester United will go head to head (Wednesday, 20:45 CET) in the first leg of their Champions League tie played at the Santiago Bernabéu. Cristiano Ronaldo will play against Manchester United for the first time since leaving Old Trafford as two of the world's greatest coaches in Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson meet again.

This is it for Real Madrid. The most important club competition is waiting for los blancos after a truly disappointing start of the season. The team hasn't played like last year through all the first half of the 2012-2013, but Mourinho's men have responded well in big matches so far. That's one of the reasons why both Mourinho and the fanbase expect Real Madrid to show its good face against Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho explained to the media that the team was lacking the needed motivation to play against some beatable teams like Granada, Betis and Osasuna in La Liga BBVA. But the Portuguese coach also said that he was happy with the team's performances in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

Raphäel Varane has been one of the biggest news Real Madrid has had this season. The French defender has played a lot of minutes for a player of his age and he was arguably the team's best player in Real's recent draw against Messi's FC Barcelona. Varane could sit on the bench against Manchester United because of Pepe's recovery, though. Mourinho feels comfortable about Pepe's fitness and he could recover the world's best pair of center backs just when needed. Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney will surely be a challenge for Real Madrid's defensive line, and that could be the reason behind Mourinho's anxiety to recover Pepe.

Ángel Di María and Xabi Alonso will also be available as expected, so The Special One will have his full roster (other than Casillas) at his disposal. Sir Alex Ferguson can't say the same thing as Fletcher and Scholes will miss the match and Phil Jones is still questionable.

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The Santiago Bernabéu will surely show a great atmosphere, in opposition to the Liga BBVA nights.This has been the Bernabéu's favorite competition and Manchester United is a great team to play against. Michael Essien said in his press conference that he hopes to see an energetic crowd that supports and backs his team.

According to his resumé, Sir Alex Ferguson could try to play a defensive game at the Bernabéu and then try to counterattack with his wingers and the Rooney-Van Persie partnership. Real Madrid always prefers to play with a lot of space to run into, so that plan could be successful for Sir Alex. In order to give his team some more chances of playing with the ball, Mourinho could start Modric in Di María's spot. Luka Modric has experience playing against Premier League teams, and his tempo and good through balls could indeed help his team more than Di María's chaotic style. That would also move Mesut Özil to the right wing, where he's been comfortable against teams like FC Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo's matchup against United's defenders will be the key to this game, though. Ronaldo is probably the quickest and most powerful player on the run, and it's hard to find a proper defender for him in United's roster. If Phil Jones is match-fit, Sir Alex Ferguson could try to narrow the midfield in order to help Carrick and Cleverley, since both of them look set to start. That would one attacker out of the lineup, meaning that Valencia, Rooney and Van Persiel would have the edge and the opportunity to shine in such a great atmosphere.

One way or another, this game could be pivotal for Real Madrid. But the team must not forget that there will be 90 more minutes to be played at the Old Trafford.

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