In a highly anticipated Champions League match-up tomorrow, Real Madrid, coming off of back to back wins over archrival Barcelona FC, meets Premiership leaders Manchester United who are coming off three successive domestic wins. With the sole exception of the Barcelona FC vs. AC Milan match up next week, this is the marquee game of the Round of 16 stage of the championship. So what can we expect?
Real is playing some of their best football of the year, are in the driver's seat in the Copa del Rey at home, and are itching to move on to the quarter finals of the Champions League. Winning these two trophies will more than make up for losing the La Liga to their archrivals, particularly given the events of the past few days.
Madrid's last two outings were a 3-1 win at the Camp Nou to eliminate Barca from the Copa del Rey and set up an all-Madrid final with Atletico Madrid, and 2-1 win over Barca at the Bernabeu to pull two points behind second place Atletico in La Liga. Yes, albeit, Barca fans, a tie due to Sergio Ramos' clear penalty-worthy game-ending foul might have been a fairer result.
The first win, though, was a magnificent all around effort that saw the Merengues control the explosive Lionel Messi and his gang, while scoring three times at their archrivals' home field. A performance of that caliber will see them through any match with any adversary. To then follow up with a 2-1 win at home, against Barca, while resting five of the starters of the previous match, says volumes about the form and confidence of the team and about the single-minded approach of their coach, Jose Mourinho.
The bottom line is that Real could not possibly be in better form. Madrid, with rested players, and with Mou setting himself up for a return to the Premiership, is gearing up for their game of the year. You can bet that is how Mou is framing this Champions League match for his team.
Sir Alex Ferguson cannot complain about Man-U's performance this season or in particular the past couple of weeks. Granted, two of their last three games were at home, and they did not go up against major competition in beating Norwich City 13th on the table, Reading (19th), and Queens Park Rangers (20th). The weaker competition, though, has served to ease back some injured players without risking them unduly, and it has given some struggling players a chance to recalibrate.
Manchester has been playing well leading up to tomorrow, and is now getting goals from everyone, most notably Chicharito Hernandez, Nani, and Wayne Rooney, to complement Robin van Perse's formidable scoring season. As a team, they are rested and healthy, with captain Nemanja Vidic, a key component missing from the first leg, now back in the line-up. All of which which augurs well for the British side who have an away goal in hand and are playing at home.
Given the quality of the teams and the location of the game, this will be a hard fought Real win. But in the end, I see at least a 2-1 or 2-2 score line--both of which would eliminate the hosts.