Five things Manchester United need to do against Real Madrid in the 2nd leg
Manchester United welcome Real Madrid to Old Trafford tonight in the decisive fixture which will decide which of these two footballing giants will progress to the Champions League quarter finals. Despite United seem to have a slender advantage, having gotten the away goal in a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, it is likely to count for nothing as both teams slug it out tonight, with the winner most likely based on the outcome of tonight’s fixture. It is, as Sir Alex said, important for United to remember playing to their strengths in spite of having to contain Ronaldo and co., and here are five things which may help swing the tie in favour of the Red Devils.
On the weekend, playing in his preferred role just behind the striker, Shinji Kagawa caused extensive damage to the Norwich defence with some incisive runs, clever decision making and a well taken hat-trick. While a couple of passes did go astray, the Japanese international had a good game overall, and will be high on confidence ahead of this fixture. His understanding with Rooney and RvP only grew as the game progressed, and his game was at a level which could get him past almost any defence in the world. This in stark contrast to him playing out wide, where his style of short passing has not met with much success, reiterating the need for the former Dortmund man to play in a central role to be at his best.
While Kagawa bagged a hat trick over the weekend, it was Rooney who was the best player on the pitch for United, with a couple of excellent, unselfish assists, and a scorcher of a goal to boot. Over the first half, we saw a slightly quiet Rooney, who came to life in the second half, particularly in attack, thereby, perhaps, indicating that he was saving himself for tonight’s fixture. Nonetheless, playing Wazza in a slightly withdrawn position, perhaps behind Kagawa and RvP would have the dual benefit of stopping Madrid having free reign in midfield, as well as allowing Rooney to dictate play with his wide range of passing. Whether he can handle both roles after having played the full ninety minutes on the weekend, however, is a matter of concern.
Amid all the hype surrounding the countless superstars that will take to the Old Trafford pitch tonight, it is easy to forget one Mexican striker who has been quite effective when called upon by United, while remaining away from the spotlight. Chicharito has tremendous pace, deceptively good aerial ability and poaching skills which Ruud van Nistelrooy would be proud of, in addition to excellent timing with his runs. If the style of play from Varane and Ramos is taken into consideration, an even stronger case is made for the inclusion of Hernandez at some stage in the game, probably as a substitute, against tiring legs in the Madrid defence.
If the first leg is anything to go by, and if Madrid stick to roughly the same plan, and there is no reason they shouldn’t, United do not have to worry about tracking too many runs into the box, but instead focus on the brute force trying to break them down. Even with the likes of Ozil and Modric in the squad, Madrid are quite likely to stick to their game plan of long range shooting, and perhaps, putting a few crosses into the box. Neither of Madrid’s first choice forwards are exceptionally mobile, meaning that Jonny Evans is not an automatic first choice for selection. Instead, the experienced partnership and aerial prowess of Ferdinand and Vidic should see the job done.
Robin van Persie, in simple terms, is brilliant. He is brilliant with the ball at his feet, brilliant while making runs, brilliant with his decision making, and brilliant with his reading of the game. He does what is required when it is required, and has been instrumental in United’s campaign thus far, and no one can deny that. One under-appreciated skill of his, however, is that he is exceptionally good at holding up play, keeping the ball at his feet irrespective of the number of opposition players trying to take it off him. This may prove to be the decisive factor if United are set up to counter attack; leaving the Dutchman up front, and basing play around him will be a ploy which should work well, at least in theory.