La Decima Obstacle Course -The Red Devils Level.
Jose Mourinho said yesterday that the whole world is looking forward to the Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United. He’s right, and what a set of games it promises to be. After a tough group of death we are faced with the task of playing England’s best team, Manchester United, in the round of 16 of the Champions League. The first leg of this match takes place on Wednesday, February 13 at 2045 CET and it is at the Bernabeu. The second leg will be played two weeks from now at Old Trafford. There are plenty of sub plots that dominate the previews of this game. Cristiano playing against the team that made him, for the team he was made for. Jose Mourinho trying to knock off the team he may eventually find himself coaching in the future. The two most storied teams in their respective countries battling it out for bragging rights. You name it, you have it. I will not bore you more, and will cut directly to the chase. The match is so important, that we are giving not one, but two RMFB writers’ thoughts in this double preview. It is a preview unlike others you have seen before, but a style that we may choose to adopt more and more, going forward. This preview will be brought to you by Bassam and myself. We exchanged a bunch of emails and had a conversational look ahead to this epic clash.
Yo Kman! How’s it going? I have a new idea for ways for people to call us idiots. And I know you like to be called that as much as I do, so it seems like the right thing to do. It just feels right. So how about we mix it up this time, and do the Man United preview through email? So let’s start this in a rather generic way. What part of the Man United team scares you most? Think this might be an easy question, but I’m still interested in knowing why. Think attack will be your answer. Last season, I would have said that this game will be a strong attack vs strong attack king of game, but recent performances have lead me to think otherwise. Even though everyone hyped up about our defense being crap and Iker being rubbish, the truth was farthest from that. Before our GK fiasco, we had the best defensive record in the league. Our biggest problem is that our attack isn’t putting in the performances it used to, which is projected in the amount of games we have scored 2 or less goals this season. What do you think? Also, prediction to how many people will call me blind for citing exact fact and numbers about our defensive record? STATS ARE RUBBISH (when they don’t fit my narrative)
Hey there fellow idiot. Awesome idea, damn right, nothing like being called one.
You’re spot on about your analysis. Strong attack v Strong attack is just a thing on the surface. There are many subplots that make this game more interesting than it already seems on paper. I agree about the defence but do you think that our first choice defence is going to be available for us? If nothing happens during the Sevilla game (which we can’t really predict, judging by the season we’ve had so far!) we are looking at Arbeloa and Ramos as the locks and the other two is really anyone’s guess. Pepe has made it back to training recently and says he’s targetting the ManUtd game as return. I’d like Pepe to start for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest ones being I don’t want an unusually high pressure on Varane, even after his excellent Clasico outing, but I’m going to be skeptical about an out of touch Pepe. What do you think of this? Who should play? At Left back again it depends how fit Marcelo is. If both are fit, no doubt my first choice is Marcelo, at least for the home leg. He just adds so much to the dynamic going forward, making CR even more lethal than he is without him. I wish he’s fit, but Coentrao is not at all bad as a backup option. Who’d you pick given the dynamics of Manchester?
To answer your question, the thing that scares me the most is their never say die spirit. People talk a lot about us having the comeback fighting spirit but I believe ManUtd is the absolute best in that category. They just have so much mental strength and believe they can come back from any bloody position. They’re not going to be scared of us or the name Real Madrid, so we can expect a hell of a fight. Apart from that, I think they are fast, very very fast when it comes to breaking out in attack. Not just fast, but also deadly. Ok, may be I don’t watch them enough so this may not be an accurate description but it feels like they don’t need 124125 chances to score a goal like we do. They have a chance and they’ll grab it by the balls. With regards to players I’m a bit worried about Van Persie obviously, and Rooney too, even Ashley young to a bit, we’re not used to such a level of directness when it comes to opponents. More than anything, just reiterating the previous point, I’m most scared of their ‘team’. You watch them a bit more, what do you know about their tactics, strengths and weaknesses?
Glad you are on board
As you said, Arbeloa and Ramos are a definite start. It ends up going to how partners those two. Yes, Varane is young, and he’s eventually gonna make a big mistake that everyone will never forget (does this remind you of someone on our team?). Luckily though, just like that someone, I’m sure the coaches understand their quality and ability. If Varane does partner Ramos and not do well, then it’s a learning process. With that said, I would take Varane over an un fit Pepe. The calmness that Varane provides is very helpful. As for LB position, I think it will be Coentrao. Mou will want to make sure he doesn’t concede at home and he’s always trusted Coentrao over Marcelo in games against world class wingers. Valencia or Nani will be on his side and his tactical discipline will be vital. Lets just hope he makes it to the game on time….
Their never say die attitude is very impressive. Think it comes more from the manager than the players. RVP is a very good striker, but our defense usually has problems against teams that try and hit them on the break. To perfectly describe their system, I would say its a very good one. Two pacy wingers on the wings allows the play to be stretched out. But at the same time they have a good middle, which has more space to operate after the wingers stretch the field. I expect in the first leg for Rooney to play deeper than usual, possibly marking Alonso. And we all know when teams specifically mark Alonso out of the game… Mou has a choice to make, he’ll either go for Modric for extra midfield strength or for Di Maria to help cover on the wing for Arbeloa who will be isolated against a pacy duo of Young and Evra. I suspect Mou might trust Ozil in doing the defensive job. But he has trusted Di Maria a lot, for some reason I can’t fathom. On the other wing, Ronaldo has the task of dealing with a RB and Valencia (who is extremely quick and high work rate). So support from the left back will be essential to ease up the double team. What do you think might be a solution?
That’s interesting. My conclusions from my limited viewing of them were similar too. I too, believe that Rooney will be employed much deeper, and specifically to mark Xabi. Interesting piece of news from today’s training is that Xabi didn’t take part. Now I don’t want to imagine the worst, but hopefully its only a little rest after the international break (Did he even play? Sorry I’m out of the loop with internationals except for big tournaments) to have some time off. I don’t even want to imagine a scenario where we take our ride out without its engine. I think we’re going to go with the tried and tested, Mourinho’s formula in big games this year has been a bit different, but I don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Di Maria’s defensive contribution will be highly rated once again, and perhaps the only surprise we can see is Callejon for him, but something tells me it is going to be Di Maria. Lets hope its good Fideo who turns, as bad Fideo has shown up way too often for comfort this season.
Who do you think will be the key for us? Of course Cristiano but I feel like owing to central midfield not being Manchester United’s strong hold, the likes of Ozil and Khedira have a great platform to shine. Especially Ozil, in my opinion is going to have a lot of space to drift and work his magic. This is a position in which he thrives. Do you agree?
Here’s another fun question. Our forwards have not exactly been firing on all cylinders this season. Pipita started out brightly before he got injured and hasn’t had any sort of rhythm after he’s gotten back. Benzema has been quite poor this season compared to his progress last year but that has sort of gone under the radar this season due to a thousand other pointless stories that never talk about the football. Is this a concern for us? I understand that due to having Cristiano our strikers’ statistics are always going to take a hit, but I feel like our forwards need to step their game up. Your thoughts on this? And who would you pick?
Xabi did not go with Spain to the friendly as he was injured before. He has also been left out of the game against Sevilla, probably as a precaution. But you described it perfectly, Real Madrid without Alonso is like a car without an engine. With that said, I think Alonso should be fine to start the game. I also think that Mourinho will use his usual line up. Not sure if that is the right choice, but he seems to be fairly consistent in these things. Which one would you prefer? Ozil on the wings with Modric central, or Di Maria/Callejon with Ozil central? I’m torn as to which one to choose. But if I was a betting man, I would say Mou goes with Di Maria. It is interesting because Modric has gotten a lot of stick for being a “failed” signing, but in fact, he’s just settling in having had no preseason, while someone like Di Maria has been much worse.
I think you underestimate their central midfield. As always, I’ll be annoying with the statistics. But they are ranked 8th in possession in Europe’s top leagues (58.4%. Real Madrid are ranked 11th with 57.9%). But perhaps what is most impressive about their midfield is how rarely they misplace passes. They are ranked 3rd in europe in terms of pass completion at 86.9%, only behind Barca (89.1%) and Bayern (87.6%). To compare that to Real Madrid, our pass completion this season has been 81.6% (not even in the top 20 in Europe). To add one last stat, Carrick usually averages around 82 passes per game, while Alonso averages 70 passes per game. (all these stats are provided by gambettafootball.com).
With those stats in mind, I would say that we will have a rough game in the middle. In that sense, Rooney and Ozil (or Modric) will be the key. How each of them manages to mark Carrick/Alonso will dictate who controls the game. Khedira and Cleverly will also be vital in the game, as they will have to take a chunk of the responsibility of play making when Carrick/Alonso are not available. As for defensively, Carrick can be caught for pace, but he will put in a physical game against Ozil. Kagawa might also be played as his work rate is really good and can help out well in both covering on the wing and in the middle.
What do you mean Kman, you don’t think Sara Carbonero is the only reason we haven’t done well? It can’t be players under performing? Or failed managerial tactics? SMH SMH! On a more serious note, both our forwards have been sub par this season. Higuain hasn’t been himself since the injury (not much wrong, but not much right, which is wrong) and Benzema has just been off. But Benzema’s issue is less ability, as he shows it every game, but what he has lost is the energy. Benzema last year was first choice because he showed that he can score, assist and provide extra work rate. This season, we have assisting, but less scoring and much less work rate. I think in the home game, Benzema will start for sure, but depending on result (if we win), I think we might see Higuain start the away leg as he is the best to have in that situation due to work rate and off the ball movement (plays the last defender best). Who would you go with?
I will sin here but, dare to make predictions?
Oops! Sorry about the ignorance about Alonso. You’ve summed up our options very well. I think I will prefer what Mourinho does, and think he will do. Ozil in the centre and Di Maria on the wings. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly because a tremendous work rate will be needed to counter their wing play and secondly because I don’t think Modric has really settled in, as you mentioned. Di Maria has been in bad form, yes but it feels like he knows the team and the team knows him and that seems to miss a little when Modric plays.
Thanks for the insight and and the numbers on their midfield. My superficial knowledge proved wrong again! Silly me! But wow, those numbers are amazing. I did notice they tend to make all the right decisions and their passes always seem to connect. That’s a scary thing, considering we suck at that, especially this season. This worries me more now.
Tough choice, regarding the strikers, and not the good kind. I think I agree with your choices and reasons. Benzema does turn it on during champions league nights so I’m hoping for that to work out.
Predictions. Man. I don’t think I have what it takes to make that. It can really go any damn way. One of the teams could very easily rout the other for five goals or the teams could play a close tense encounter, basically anything could happen. I can’t do it Bassam, sorry. I’m gonna pull a Tevez and not do what you ask me to. What about you though?
I’ve got a couple of more things from my side before we wrap this thing up. We have spoken about their midfield and even forwards to an extent. What about their defenders? What do you think of their centre of defence? Their wings seem a bit like ours. One conservative and one a little more free flowing. Also I see David de Gea being a big problem for us. A typical shot blocker and you know how all these Spanish keepers normally have the game of their lives against us. Your thoughts on all of this?
No way Jose! If you are not doing predictions, then neither am I! I can’t say I’m too optimistic The display against Sevilla was good. And Ozil and Khedira rested is a positive. If Alonso is fully fit and Benzema has his CL boots on, then I think we can get a good result. Mou tends to pull his best against sides from the EPL, so I think he’ll have the team fully prepared.
As for their defense, it really depends who they play at right back. If they play Smalling, then most of the attack will be coming from the left wing with Evra pushing forward. Rafael is usually the starting right back, and he is an attacking minded right back. With that said, I think Ronaldo can rip him apart if Valencia doesn’t help. I see Sir Alex going with Smalling at right back and giving more freedom to Valencia. With that said, the thing the team needs to watch out for the most is counter attacks and transition back into defense. That is where Man United can hurt most, and we have suffered the most against teams that sit deep and counter attack, which I think is how Man United will play the game.
Here is hoping for the spirit of Brazilian Ronaldo, Redondo and Raul be with us, and our players can replicate the display those players had against Man United less than a decade ago.
But we should round this up. We have emailed/texted/gtalked about this game enough that it might just end up being the most boring thing ever. Only one way to end this now: Vamos Real, Hasta el Final! Hala Madrid!
Do you agree with us? What are your opinions and thoughts looking ahead to this match? Which lineup would you like to see? If you are a Manchester United fan who has stopped over, welcome, we’d love to hear your side of things as well. What do you think are key matchups? Who will make the difference. So much to talk about, let the comments section rip already. A kind request to all regular readers, with the match being one that has lot of coverage the blog will get lots of visitors, so let us as the group that makes this site exist, take the onus on trying to keep the comments section a civil place. There’s just so much football to talk about, we wouldn’t be doing justice if we are concentrating on insults or commenting regulations. Until next time, Hala Madrid!