Real Madrid have the second season-defining match in just one week. Mourinho's men managed to pass the first test with an stellar 1-3 win at the Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey Semifinals, and only four days after shocking Barcelona, Sergio Ramos' header gave los blancos yet another win against Messi and company.
European football is something else, though. Real Madrid travels to the Old Trafford with the exact same score on the aggregate than the one against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, but Manchester United will surely provide another kind of challenge for Real. On the first leg of the tie played at the Santiago Bernabéu, Sir Alex Ferguson's team decided to give Madrid the ball and play defensively throughout the whole second half with a 1-1 in the scoreboard, but Van Persie still could've scored a couple of more goals for his team. Real Madrid couldn't break United's wall, so Sir Alex could try to deploy that same strategy at the Old Trafford.
One of United's key players was Phil Jones, but it seems that he will miss Tuesday's match with an small injury that sidelined him the last couple of games. Ferguson confirmed in Monday's press conference that Jones isn't match fit. Jones' absence could make a huge difference for both teams. His defensive skills and physical condition served his team really well against Ronaldo, and potential replacement Tom Cleverley doesn't have Jones' talent when it comes down to defend, so Sir Alex will have to think about what to do to stop Real Madrid's playmaking ability.
Mourinho included injured goalkeeper Iker Casillas on the team's list, but he's far from fully recovered and will only travel to Manchester to support his teammates. The Portuguese coach will have to make a tough decision about Real Madrid's defenders, though. Álvaro Arbeloa and Fàbio Coentrao will be the team's starters at the wing back positions, but one man out of Pepe, Ramos and Varane will have to stay on the bench. Pepe's return from his ankle injury was sloppy, but he completed an stellar performance in the team's midfield against Barcelona this past Saturday. Ramos scored the game-winner and Varane completed another unforgettable match to wrap up his best month as a proffesional footballer. It will be a very important choice for Jose Mourinho, as one single mistake could cost the team the ticket to the next round.
The Special One will likely play with Özil, Di María and Ronaldo upfront, pairing them with Higuaín or Benzema. Khedira and Alonso will be in the team's midfield, but there are some rumors that say Pepe could be playing there in a 4-3-3 formation that would sideline Di María or Özil from the lineup. That would be a shocking decision by Mourinho, but Pepe's energy and ability to steal the ball in the midfield could energize Real Madrid.
It's hard to find such an exciting match in the continent, and that's why the whole football world will be paying close attention. If Real Madrid finds a way to score first and force United to look for a goal, Mourinho's men will be able to play in that counterattacking style that is capable of destroying opponents. But in the end, it might all come down to which team Cristiano Ronaldo plays for.