Naturally for this stage of the season a number of Premier League clubs no longer have anything to play for beyond pride. With league position secure some managers may see this as a chance to plan ahead for next season, or the summer transfer window. No doubt the international break would have given clubs the opportunity to assess their goals, their tactical plans and their squads. So as we enter the home straight, here are five managers who may already have one eye on the future… (Read more)
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… (Read more)
European competition is often used as a measure of a league’s strength. Champions Manchester City’s early exit in the Champions League didn’t bode well for the Premier League’s claim to be the world’s best, and other clubs have done little to dispel this as anything other than a myth. Manchester United defied doubters to avoid defeat away to Real Madrid and Tottenham secured the draw required to seal an aggregate victory against a competitive Lyon side, but Newcastle and Chelsea laboured against moderate opposition. Liverpool fought in vain to overturn a first leg deficit against Zenit St. Petersburg, whilst Arsenal were utterly outclassed by Bayern Munich… (Read more)
Both teams’ attention is almost solely on Europe now interest in their respect leagues has waned, with Real Madrid out of the La Liga title race and Manchester United holding a comfortable lead at the top of the Premier League. Yet despite their varying fortunes in their domestic leagues, and with United coming into this game as group stage winners, Madrid still appear many people’s favourites going into this tie.
Despite the hyperbole from both managers about a potential classic, Ferguson is likely to focus on containment while Madrid attempt to play for a victory. In this regard, with Madrid likely to be predictable in their approach, analysis focuses on United’s tactical selection… (Read more)
Considering how Manchester United were outmuscled in midfield by Everton earlier in the season and the poor form of his natural wingers, Sir Alex Ferguson could reintroduce his diamond midfield against Everton with Wayne Rooney behind two forwards. However, given that the league leaders are at home and are unbeaten in 13 league games Ferguson will probably keep faith with his customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape. Everton came back from 3-1 down to Aston Villa last weekend after switching to two forwards in a 4-4-2 but David Moyes is likely to start with Marouane Fellaini behind a lone striker – assuming he passes a late fitness test – from where the Belgian scored the winner against United in August. United and Everton have played out some incredible games in recent years, largely owing to the use of similar systems but with vastly opposing styles… (Read more)