After a pulsating first leg, Manchester United return to Old Trafford with a slight advantage of leading on away goals. The tie is far from over and there is still a job to do but most would have settled for the 1-1 scoreline. Keep a clean sheet and progress to the quarter-finals is secured which is easier said than done. However, concede the first goal and advantage sways the other way.
As predicted, Cristiano Ronaldo proved to be the danger man and popped up with an almost inevitable equaliser. Though Phil Jones was rumoured to man-mark the Portuguese winger, it seemed as if Rafael and Wayne Rooney were tasked with the unenviable task of keeping him quiet. His ten attempts at goal were almost as much as United managed and new methods may be adopted to silence him and Madrid’s attack.
Starve the forward line. It is one thing defending as a unit and offering last-ditch tackles as protection, yet cut the supply line and you restrict the danger. While many eyes were on how Ronaldo would fare, it was somewhat worrying that Xabi Alonso was given so much time and space to dictate play. With a few yards of space he can pick an inch-perfect pass a la Paul Scholes and it was his ball over the top for Mezut Ozil which brought out another impressive save from David De Gea at his near post. Set Rooney up top with instructions to drop back and ‘sit’ on the Spaniard as he did second half and Madrid may find it difficult to move the ball as effectively.
Employ a destroyer. Intriguingly, Mourinho opted to send on Pepe as the second half wound down possibly as he was conscious that conceding a second away goal would be disastrous. Certainly having someone patrolling the gap behind midfield and the back four is tempting in a role that requires a large degree of discipline. Of the available options, Anderson would be better suited if his tackling remains tenacious and his ability to pick out a pass to feet could spring several counter-attacks.
Hold out for a goalless draw. Oh, the element of surprise. Of course, no-one wants to see that and United are yet to progress on away goals in the knock-out stages of the European Cup. As the season has progressed, there seems to be a new found steeliness to United’s defensive performances and a doggedness that states they simply will not be beaten. Putting nine men behind the ball and allowing Madrid to try to pick holes would be a horrible albeit pragmatic route.
Play like the away side. United’s tactics in the first leg were primarily to contain and counter-attack. There was a caution which meant rationing out attacks to prevent being caught out on the counter. Whilst the initiative will be on United in the second leg, that does not necessarily mean they have to be on the front foot. As shown in the semi-final return leg against Barcelona in 2008, scoring early then defending that lead may not be pretty but it can be effective.
Force the initiative early. A risky strategy which could pay off and kill the tie off by half-time but dominating possession and even striking early could bring a relatively straightforward night’s work.
Be patient. One of the striking elements in watching Madrid this season is their susceptibility to late goals and question marks over fitness levels. As United enjoyed more possession and found more gaps as the first leg wore on, simply biding your time against Madrid increases your chances. While nerves may jangle as the game wears on, United should be confident of striking late should they need to.
In a game of such magnitude with an array of talent on both sides, the possibilities are endless. The game could be won by a set-piece yet with the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo likely to feature the tie could also be settled with a piece of magic. With Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho again locking horns, the match is also fascinating purely from a tactical point of view. The romance and attacking intent of both clubs indicates that this should be a classic so sit back and enjoy.