Manchester United face Real Madrid on Tuesday in what is set to be the game of the season so far. Sir Alex Ferguson has said his tactics and formation must focus on the teams strengths as well as preparing for Madrid’s. Paul Scholes and Phil Jones are the two injury absentees for United.
David De Gea: The 22-year-old will be looking to repeat his impressive display in the first leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday. De Gea’s alertness and shot-stopping ability could be the key in deciding the outcome of this game.
Rafael: The young Brazilian will be hoping for an improved performance from the first leg. Rafael is generally in good form and will hopefully continue that after being omitted at the weekend.
Rio Ferdinand: Ferdinand missed United’s last fixture but is set to come back in against Madrid. His superior pace to Nemanja Vidic, coupled with the tendency to give Vidic a week long rest in between appearances, suggests Ferdinand will start.
Jonny Evans: Evans was superb in the Bernabeu and will need another authoritative performance on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see whether Evans goes forward for set-pieces or whether he is required to stay back and help defend Madrid counter-attacks with his pace.
Patrice Evra: The Frenchman is set to captain the side in Vidic’s absence and could provide an important attacking outlet down the left-hand side.
Ashley Young: Despite only playing one game since returning from injury, Ferguson may well choose Ashley Young to face Madrid. Young’s work-rate and counter-attacking ability could prove the decisive factor. The Englishman was trusted against Chelsea (league leaders at the time) earlier in the season despite only just returning from injury, so there is no reason to suggest he won’t be trusted in another big game on Tuesday.
Michael Carrick: Manchester United’s midfield dictator has been in imperious form all season and his performance may well affect whether United can overcome Madrid. Carrick is likely to be asked to sit deep for most of the match in an attempt to shut off Madrid’s counter-attacking options.
Tom Cleverley: Cleverley has started most of United’s ‘big’ games this season with the first leg of this tie being the exception. His energy and work-rate could help United win the midfield battle, much in the same way they did at the Etihad earlier in the season. In particular, Cleverley’s impressive movement could be important in tracking the likes of Ozil in the Madrid midfield.
Danny Welbeck: Another start for Welbeck is certainly feasible after his superb recent form including that goal in the Bernabeu. The young Mancunian is likely to start wide, but will probably play his part in a flexible forward line that also helps shut off space for Madrid in midfield.
Wayne Rooney: Although an almost certain starter on Tuesday, Rooney’s position is one of the most unpredictable factors in the team line-up. A probable position will be behind the striker, looking to drop back into midfield and perhaps nullify Xabi Alonso. Rooney may be asked to play wide on the other hand, in a flexible interchangeable role with United’s other forward players.
Robin van Persie: Van Persie will be desperate for a goal on Tuesday after his missed chances in the Bernabeu but his hold-up play, link-up ability and set-piece taking will be extremely important for the team.
Manchester United may well line-up in a variation of a 4-4-1-1.. If Ferguson is extremely cautious against the Madrid counter, then Carrick is likely to sit just in front of the defence with Cleverley and Rooney ahead of him, putting Welbeck and Young out wide.
More likely perhaps though is a midfield two of Carrick and Cleverley with Young wide right, leaving Welbeck and Rooney to interchange between wide left and central positions.
It would be a harsh decision to leave Shinji Kagawa out of the eleven after his recent hat-trick but the Japanese star completed a rare 90 minutes on Saturday, and may need to be sacrificed for this encounter. Ryan Giggs meanwhile is likely to feature at some point but this is unlikely to be from the start. Phil Jones is assumed to be not fit for this tie but if he has made a surprise recovery then he would likely feature in the midfield.
In terms of how United can damage Real Madrid, one area is from set pieces. This gives more reasoning for the inclusion of Danny Welbeck as his height gives the Red Devils an extra threat, as seen in the first leg. United may also look to threaten down the wings considering the possibility of Madrid wingers not tracking back. If this is the case, then attacking transitions through Ashley Young (as seen at the Etihad earlier in the season) and the advancement of United full-backs is probable.