What: Champions League – Round of 16
Who: Real Madrid vs Manchester United
When: Wednesday 13th February, 2013, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Signs of Readiness

Real Madrid needed a win against Sevilla to prove to Spain and Europe that they are ready to tackle Manchester United in the Round of 16 of the 2012/13 Champions League. In front of their own supporters, Jose Mourinho’s side displayed flashes of brilliance and managed to earn a resounding 4-1 victory. However, with any hope of retaining their domestic crown almost nonexistent, the team now turn their full focus to Europe’s blue ribbon competition.

The home crowd factor was instrumental for Los Merengues on Saturday night, as they seem to be fully at ease whenever they are on their home turf, and this will be very important when they meet Manchester United, according to defender Sergio Ramos.

“The home crowd is key for us. The support of our fans counts for a great deal. We want the Bernabeu to cheer us on and carry us forward with the faith and euphoria of the fans”, declared the club vice-captain.

The numbers favour Real Madrid for the home tie, as Los Blancos’ home record against English opposition is six wins, four draws and just two losses. Furthermore, the nine-time Champions League winners prevailed 6-5 on aggregate over the Red Devils back when the two sides last met in 2003, in the quarter-finals of the same competition in what was a classic duel in Champions League history.

Sealed Title

With their latest win over Everton, Manchester United made it near impossible for Manchester City to hold on to the Premier League crown for a second consecutive year. Twelve points now separate the two Manchester giants and it looks very likely that the league trophy will be decorated with red ribbons at the end of the current campaign. Now the Red Devils travel to Madrid and face tough European opposition, in what is surely the most anticipated and exciting clash of the Round of 16 stage of the Champions League.

While the Red Devils are leading the English chart, Real Madrid have conceded their domestic crown, and have made no effort in concealing their new plan for the current season, which is winning both the Copa del Rey and Champions League. As such, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted that the pressure may be lying on his Real Madrid counterpart Jose Mourinho to succeed in collecting a tenth Champions League accolade for his club.

“He’d be the only person to win the European Cup with three different teams, so it’s a fantastic challenge for him. I think the European Cup has always been important to him. He’s done a great job there; he’s got a terrific squad of players. But there’s no secret to his desire to win the European Cup”, declared the Scotsman ahead of the much awaited tie.

Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (30/01; Copa del Rey)
Granada 1-0 Real Madrid (02/02; La Liga)
Real Madrid 4-1 Sevilla (09/02; La Liga)

Manchester United:
Manchester United 2-1 Southampton (30/01; Premier League)
Fulham 0-1 Manchester United (02/02; Premier League)
Manchester United 2-0 Everton (10/02; Premier League)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Iker Casillas

Manchester United: Darren Fletcher; Phil Jones (doubt)

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo: All eyes were on Ronaldo for the match against Sevilla and the Portuguese certainly did not disappoint with a hat-trick to destroy the Andalucians. Facing his old side for the first time since his record-breaking €94M move, he will have the full support of the Bernabeu faithful to make magic happen as his current club have Champions League glory at Wembley in mind. When the two sides last met, Manchester United prevailed 4-3 at Old Trafford, but Brazilian legend Ronaldo netted a hat-trick on the night. The ex-Sporting Lisbon starlet will be hoping for a similar display.

Manchester United – Robin van Persie: The ex-Arsenal captain has become an adored figure at his new club, slotting easily into the team’s starting eleven. Much like Ronaldo, he has grown to become perhaps Manchester United’s most important player. With 19 league goals to his name so far, Van Persie is enjoying life at Old Trafford. In terms of ability, he has been perhaps the first player to present that “extra” something that his side have been missing since Ronaldo left in June 2009.

Match Prediction

Real Madrid showed they were able to hold their own against the big clubs when they met Barcelona at the end of last month. Los Merengues have won 28 of their last 31 Champions League matches and as demonstrated against Sevilla, are very powerful on home soil. The arrival of Diego Lopez between the posts provides the home side with reassurance in the absence of Iker Casillas, but his counterpart David de Gea will be under the microscope given the fact that he has made high-profile blunders.

Manchester United, meanwhile, will want to exploit frailties in the Real Madrid back four, as centre-back Pepe has been missing for some time now and will be short of match fitness should he make the starting eleven for this one. A win at home will be crucial for Real Madrid ahead of the return leg at Old Trafford, but with only Ronaldo showing his true colours at the moment, that may be hard to achieve against opponents of Manchester United’s calibre. Real Madrid 2-2 Manchester United.

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