Manchester United vs Real Madrid (Champions League Last 16)

05/03/13

Manchester United host Real Madrid with the tie perfectly poised at 1-1.

Sir Alex Ferguson will be without Phil Jones, who performed an important defensive role in the first leg, so Ferguson may turn to Ryan Giggs or Tom Cleverley in a holding role alongside Michael Carrick. With Nemanja Vidic playing at the weekend, Jonny Evans will probably partner Rio Ferdinand in defence. Antonio Valencia has been given the chance to play himself back into form – although it’s debatable if he has succeeded – and will probably play on the right, while Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will expect to fill the left midfield and central playmaker roles.

Madrid are coming into this game off the back of two Clasico victories, so confidence should be high. The form of Raphael Varane has made him a regular alongside Sergio Ramos, but Alvaro Arbeloa appears to face competition from Michael Essien for the right back slot following the latter’s deployment at full back on Saturday. Pepe, often used as a midfield destroyer against Barcelona, may feature as a more defensive option to Sami Khedira. Once again Jose Mourinho must choose between Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain in attack – Benzema’s opener on Saturday in conjunction with Higuain’s poor showing in the first leg probably makes the Frenchman favourite to start. Iker Casillas’ inclusion in the squad suggests he may rival Diego Lopez for the goalkeeping position.

Just as with the first leg both managers will want to counter attack, so the team seemingly on the back foot will often be the side offering the most threat.

With the main tactical points covered in the first leg preview, this analysis will cover points relevant to the second leg.

Possible line-ups.

Possible line-ups.

No Phil Jones

Jones’ injury is a huge blow for Ferguson. United have lacked a stand-out midfield destroyer since Roy Keane, with Darren Fletcher and Anderson offering energy but lacking basic defensive instincts. Despite his age, Jones has become Ferguson’s defensive option in midfield in the same way as Mourinho occasionally uses Pepe. The young defender performed admirably in the first leg, denying Cristiano Ronaldo space in United’s right channel.

United lack an obvious replacement – Darren Fletcher would have been a natural option but for his long-term injury problems, and Anderson continues to frustrate. Therefore with no natural ball-winner Ferguson may opt for a defensive screen based on intelligent positioning rather than energetic running. This could see a return of Giggs alongside Carrick in a similar system to that of the 2010/11 season – the two midfielders looked to sit deep to prevent opponents finding space between the lines, with pressure applied further up the pitch by the attacking players. Giggs would also offer United an extra playmaker alongside Carrick, both capable of playing accurate balls to teammates further forward.

Madrid’s midfield pressing

This will be particularly important to determine either Mourinho’s ambition at any given point in the game. United’s midfield pairing are likely to sit ahead of the defence, preventing Madrid’s trio of Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria from finding space. Yet Madrid’s pairing of Xabi Alonso or Sami Khedira have the option of staying deep themselves of pushing forward to engage Giggs and Carrick.

Mourinho will be aware of the threat of United’s advanced playmaker, either Wayne Rooney or Shinji Kagawa, but rather than leaving two players back may decide one of Khedira and Alonso can have more freedom to move forward. That would leave Alonso and Madrid’s centre backs marking Robin van Persie and Rooney, while Khedira could position himself further forward to press Giggs and Carrick.

Rooney and Kagawa’s positioning

In the first leg Kagawa played a similar role to the one he occupied at Borussia Dortmund – a central role behind a lone forward, tasked with creating chances and pressing high up the pitch without the ball. Rooney was stationed out on the right wing where he did little more than help (unsuccessfully) to stifle the Ronaldo/Fabio Coentrao partnership. Ferguson knows that he will need more from Rooney in the second leg and therefore may give him the central berth. With Valencia seemingly back in favour to occupy the right wing, Rooney and Kagawa are probably competing for the left midfield role and a central position.

There are benefits to both. Rooney has more discipline in wide areas and is equally comfortable attacking down a flank than through the middle, whereas Kagawa naturally drifts infield and would offer United no left-sided option in attack. Yet Rooney also offers more dynamism in the central role, being capable of pressuring Alonso in defence and bursting past him in attack.

Both players also offer different options with the ball. Kagawa will naturally move towards the ball to exchange passes in front of the defence before making late runs into the penalty area, whereas Rooney has the option of running at or past defenders. Their deployment really rests on where Ferguson wants a direct option (Rooney) or another passer (Kagawa). Should Kagawa play centrally, expect United to focus their attacks down the flanks, with the Japanese playmaker moving the ball wide to the advancing wingers. With Rooney central, Kagawa will move infield to offer an extra passing option, meaning attack will either be concentrated down the right through Valencia or via quick interplay through the middle.

Madrid’s right back

Mourinho’s use of Essien at right back against Barcelona on Saturday offers an intriguing option. Arbeloa has long been considered a weak point, with opponents’ preferring to concentrate their defensive resources elsewhere safe in the knowledge that Madrid’s right back is unlikely to offer a notable attacking threat. Essien is not a natural full back but was sometimes deployed there at Chelsea, where he providing powerful attacking surges and the occasionally long range goal. With Di Maria afforded space in the first leg due to United’s focus on Ronaldo, Mourinho may choose to field a more attacking option at right back.

Summary

Despite United’s satisfaction at securing an away draw, Madrid may actually enjoy playing away even more. Unlike at the Bernabeu, the expectation will be for United to take the initiative as the home side. Although United lead on away goals, Ferguson has conceded that he believes Madrid will score, meaning his team will need to look for goals themselves. The first leg demonstrated where United could hurt Madrid, but failed to take advantage of several decent counter attacking opportunities. The loss of Jones suggests United will sit deep but press from the front, so it will be up to Madrid to break the home side down without exposing themselves too much at the back.

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