Football: Real Madrid and Manchester United go head to head in the Champions League last 16 tomorrow, with both sides eager to keep their preparations secret before the big encounter.
United opted to stay in Manchester for their final training session before the trip to the Spanish capital, while Madrid carried out their stretching session on the furthest pitch away from the cameras at their training ground, choosing to put on hold any meaningful work until after the media had left.
The match is as much about two managers as it is two clubs. In Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho both teams boast two of world football’s most decorated coaches.
Ferguson has an unenviable head-to-head record against Mourinho, having won only two of their previous 14 meetings. However the Scot can pile pressure on his Portuguese rival — and potentially cost him his job — should United progress come the end of the second leg on March 5.
Mourinho’s Madrid are currently cut adrift in the Spanish title race, some 16 points behind bitter rivals Barcelona. European progression for Spain’s capital club, who have been stuck on nine European Cup glories since 2002, is crucial.
Mourinho has dubbed the clash as “the match the world is waiting for,” while Ferguson is fully aware that the stakes are particularly high for the man he has encountered over the years in matches against Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
“I think their target is the European Cup,” Ferguson said. “They got a bad start in the league and were chasing their tail a bit because Barcelona’s form has been incredible.
“I think Jose has set his targets firmly on the European Cup, no doubt about that. It can be harder for us, but there’s a bit of pressure for them too. At this moment in time we’re involved in three (competitions).”
Ferguson will be without Paul Scholes, who did not make the trip to Spain due to a knee injury.
While the absence of Scholes robs Ferguson of some welcome experience, there was positive news with winger Ashley Young, who has also suffered from a knee problem, cleared to travel.
Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, too, overcame minor injuries to make the 22-man contingent.
Jones could be used in a midfield holding role, as United try to quell the creative forces of Xabi Alonso and, of course, former United forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whom Alonso provides so effectively.
Ronaldo, who left United in 2009 for a world record fee of £80 million, has smashed goalscoring records at Madrid and remarkably already has 13 goals to his name in 2013.
Stopping him will be key to a United victory, though the visitors can take heart from the absence of keeper Iker Casillas, who has a broken hand. Madrid will remain slight favourites, having won eight of their last nine home games in the Champions League.
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