The Madrid perspective

Posted by Mark Payne

As United head to the Bernabeu for Wednesday's Champions League match, ESPNFC Real Madrid correspondent Nichlolas Rigg answered some questions for us on the game.

- The Manchester United perspective
- Video: How will Madrid beat United?

MP: How do you think Madrid will/should line up Wednesday?

NR: I'd go with Diego Lopez in goal, with a back four of Alvaro Arbeloa, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao, a midfield two of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira, an attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, out of the left, Angel di Maria on the right and Mesut Ozil just behind Karim Benzema.

Most of that Jose Mourinho should go with, but Pepe returned at the weekend from the bench so he could feature in place of Raphael Varane. Either way, Madrid shouldn't line up much differently to a usual La Liga match, pressuring all over the park, massively dangerous on the counterattack and vulnerable from set pieces.

MP: How are confidence levels of getting a good result at the Bernabeu and progressing to the next round after the Old Trafford leg?

NR: Good question. Confidence levels around the Bernabeu, on the whole, are pretty low given the season Madrid has endured so far, but there's a sense that the slate has almost been wiped clean for the Champions League, the club's obsession -- a 10th possible triumph this season. The league is a write-off and the Copa del Rey is minor, leaving Los Blancos fully focused on Europe and leaving confidence levels for this competition high.

Madrid always believes it can win the Champions League, regardless of the season the team is having. The starting 11 may have been "Jekyll and Hyde" this season, but Madrid should be confident that starting 11 can win the competition this season -- they're capable of beating anyone on their day.

MP: What would be a good result for Madrid on Wednesday?

NR: Madrid will be looking to take an advantage from the home leg, no doubt about it. Confidence is already brittle thanks to the current poor showing domestically, and a failure to beat United at home would probably hit that confidence for the return leg -- the pressure would be on. As much as Mourinho, his men, and Madridistas would love a comfortable victory, a slender 1-0 win would be almost ideal. A lead, without conceding an away goal, and tactics that suit playing away from home and hitting on the break down to a tee.

Madrid has been better away from home in the big matches of late -- just ask Barcelona -- so a failure to make their progression signed, sealed and delivered at home will be no big worry for Mourinho's men.

MP: Madrid are a shambles in La Liga this season -- how have things gone so wrong after last season's record-breaking exploits?

NR: The team is the same one that broke records galore in the league last season, plus a few extra players. Problems have been present throughout the squad all season, however, and mainly off the pitch. Mainly between the manager and key personnel in the dressing room, it's been said that some -- Iker Casillas, Ramos -- have not been playing for their boss this term. Arguments here, arguments there.

Injuries, too, haven't helped. Madrid's defence has been ravaged, with Marcelo out for large parts of the season and Coentrao, too. Ramos has missed plenty because of suspension -- discipline has been another big problem within the squad. Possibly a lack of hunger, too, given just how good Madrid were last season.

MP: What do you think about Ronaldo being "sad" earlier in the season? Do you think we might see him back at Old Trafford?

NR: United fans know as well as Madrid fans that Ronaldo is the kind of player who loves to be loved. He needs to be the centre of attention and he needs the love of his teammates, his manager and the supporters. He felt he didn't have that at the start of the season -- now he does. Good news for Madrid, bad news for United. I don't think it's down to money -- Ronaldo said as much. Never say never about a return to Manchester. I think he'll see out his contract but I'm sure there will be offers elsewhere -- if someone can afford him. Think PSG and Milan, although the Italians would have trouble stumping up the cash.

MP: Who will be your key men, in your opinion?

NR: Ronaldo is a given, but so much focus is being put on him that many are forgetting the world-class lineup Madrid has. Ozil has not been far behind Cristiano this season and he'll be a tricky customer for United. For me, Alonso and Khedira are the heartbeat of the team and the latter has been an absolute machine in 2013, adding attack to his stubborn defence in the engine room. They make Madrid tick and they will be crucial over the two legs in defence and attack.

MP: And what about any weaknesses you're afraid United may exploit?

NR: Defending set pieces has been Madrid's obvious problem this season. I don't have the stats, but it's safe to say plenty of goals have been conceded from corners and free kicks. A lack of understanding between the back four and Casillas was bad enough, but with Casillas' injury, Mourinho brought in Lopez as cover and he's still fashioning an understanding with a back four that continues to change.

MP: Do you think Mourinho will stay or go? Why? Which would you prefer? Who could they go for next?

NR: I'd love him to stay, but I think it's too late for that. It's a shame that players can dictate a manager's outcome, but I think that's the way it will go. Too much has happened this season for Mou to stay, whether he wins the Champions League or not. PSG has been mentioned, but Mourinho said this week his next stop will be England. If I was a betting man, I'd go for a return to Chelsea come the summer. Plenty of names have been bandied about: Joachim Loew, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp, even Rafa Benitez and former player Michael Laudrup.

Follow Mark on twitter @markjpayne; Follow Nicholas @Nicholasrigg

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