Manchester Utd vs. Real Madrid PreviewPosted: Tuesday April 22, 2003 10:05 AM
Wednesday, April 23, KO 1845 GMT, Old Trafford, Champions League quarterfinal, second leg. Real Madrid leads 3-1 on aggregate.
LONDON (Reuters) -- Manchester United will be pinning its hopes of a Champions League semifinal place on talismanic Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy when it takes on holder Real Madrid on Wednesday.
The odds are clearly stacked against Alex Ferguson's men at Old Trafford after they were beaten 3-1 by an imperious Real at the Bernabeu in the first leg of their quarterfinal on April 8.
Even Ferguson has admitted that some of the football played that night by Real, with France's Zinedine Zidane and Portugal's Luis Figo in the midfield engine room, was mesmerizing.
But van Nistelrooy's strike during a gritty comeback by the visitors has given United hope they can yet turn things around, courtesy of a 2-0 win on the night and the away goals rule.
An early goal would certainly give United wings, undermine Spanish confidence and turn Old Trafford into a cauldron at a stroke.
In van Nistelrooy, who has scored a remarkable 41 goals this season for club and country, they have a man who can provide just such a breakthrough.
In his Norwegian strike partner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they also have a born predator whose stoppage time winner in the 1999 Champions League final brought mighty Bayern Munich literally to its knees.
However, United's undeniable ability to score will only be half the equation Wednesday and it is the other half -- a suspect defense -- which has given cause for concern.
United stood off their illustrious opponents at the Bernabeu and Ferguson made it clear in last weekend newspapers that the practice must not be repeated at Old Trafford.
"We've got to be brave enough to play them one versus one," Ferguson told the Sunday papers. "It's straightforward. If we can do that, we've got a better chance."
The loss of right-back Gary Neville through suspension is a blow to a rearguard which will pair England's Rio Ferdinand and Frenchman Mikael Silvestre, who usually plays at leftback.
What has improved United's chances to a degree, though, is the unexpected loss of the man identified as Real's most important player, Raul.
The Spanish forward, rated by Ferguson as the world's best player, had to undergo emergency surgery in a Madrid clinic on Monday for acute appendicitis and has been ruled out for a month.
Real coach Vicente del Bosque need not be too concerned that the absence of Raul will lead to a shortage of goals, with players of the caliber of Fernando Morientes, Guti and Javier Portillo lining up as potential partners for Ronaldo.
Raul adds something more to the team than just a regular supply of goals, though.
The 25-year-old is a tireless competitor, always tackling back and urging his teammates on, and, as the player United feared most, he will be sorely missed Wednesday.
"We'll be without the team's emblem," goalkeeper Iker Casillas recognized on the eve of the game.
"We're all hopeful, though, that a club with a great squad can get through this test. It's a last-minute setback but we'll be travelling with great optimism.
"Now, we just want him to recover as soon as possible."
A victory for Real, who beat United 3-2 at Old Trafford at the same stage of the competition three years ago, would send them into a semifinal with either archrival Barcelona or Juventus, who drew 1-1 in the first leg and meet in Catalonia on Tuesday.
Manchester United: 1-Fabien Barthez; 24-Wes Brown, 6-Rio Ferdinand, 27-Mikael Silvestre, 22-John O'Shea; 7-David Beckham, 16-Roy Keane, 4-Juan Sebastian Veron, 11-Ryan Giggs; 20-Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 10-Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas; 2-Michel Salgado, 4-Fernando Hierro, 6-Ivan Helguera, 3-Roberto Carlos; 10-Luis Figo, 24-Claude Makelele, 16-Flavio Conceicao, 5-Zinedine Zidane; 14-Guti, 11-Ronaldo
Head-to-head record: Played: 7 Wins: Real Madrid 3, Manchester United 1 Draws: 3
Champions League results 2002-03
Real Madrid P13 W6 D5 L2 F27 A14
Notes: Manchester United's chances of overcoming its two-goal deficit against Real's team of all the talents looks slim, given that they have beaten the Spaniards only once in seven attempts -- and that was by a one-goal margin. But its record at Old Trafford has been outstanding this season with six wins out of seven in Champions League action and all bar one of those by a sufficient margin to overturn a 3-1 disadvantage.
Real, who won 3-2 on their last visit to Manchester three seasons ago when they beat the defending European champion to reach the semifinals of a competition they were destined to win, have won on each of their last three trips to England. The only time they ever lost by a large margin was in a 4-1 defeat by Derby County way back in the 1975-76 season, which was also their last defeat in England. They have lost just two matches in the Champions League this season, both by a single goal margin.
United's record v Spanish clubs: P30 W8 D11 L11 F45 A50
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