The Madrid perspective

Posted by Mark Payne

Before Tuesday's second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid, I interviewed ESPNFC Madrid blogger Nicholas Rigg about the view from the Spanish capital. The sides played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

Mark Payne: How important was it to beat Barcelona in the two previous fixtures? Was this the best possible preparation for Madrid?

Nicholas Rigg: Definitely, especially the Copa del Rey clash, which Madrid won 3-1 at the Camp Nou. It showed how devastating Madrid can be away from home in a huge match, exactly what Tuesday night at Old Trafford will be, and it must have been a massive boost for confidence levels given the season Los Blancos have had so far.

Saturday's Liga victory, pride aside, was neither here nor there as far as preparation for the Champions League goes - Madrid fielded a much-changed side. To win that as well was a huge boost given the strength of the respective sides. Back-to-back Clasico wins over Barca for the first time since 2007-08 - what better way to prepare for United?

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MP: Any news on the dressing-room splits in the camp?

NR: No news, and no news is good news. The splits may not be down the dressing room, more from the dressing room to the manager's room, and they have been put very much to one side for this vital period. Groups who may not wholly see eye-to-eye pulled together for one aim: silverware. No sign of squabbles, no sign of arguments. Madrid are very much together, helped by, and as shown by, those victories over Barcelona. This season's Champions League could be historic for the players and the manager, with it being La Decima, and everyone wants to be a part of it. A real working relationship - arguments and splits on hold until the job is done.

MP: Jose Mourinho seems to have created a siege mentality around the place - is this helping the players, do you think?

NR: That's Mourinho's speciality, isn't it? Us against the world and all that. He's maybe not doing it as much as he did with Inter and Chelsea, due to those aforementioned rifts and cracks that have appeared in the camp this season, but it's still there and it's a glue that's vital given the conditions at the Bernabeu. Splits or no splits, Clasico matches pull Madrid together as one, even if it is for 90 minutes only, and the same goes for the Champions League. Maybe it's slightly fine-tuned, and maybe that's for the better. A siege mentality, but a controlled one - not one that's going to get out of control as it has done before.

MP: Are the key men rested and in good form heading into Tuesday?

NR: They certainly are. Mourinho played his usual back line, minus Alvaro Arbeloa, at the weekend - a good idea to give Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos more time together as a centre-back pairing. Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Xabi Alonso were all rested, however, and most will be fully fit. There's a slight niggling injury worry of Alonso but he should be fine. Good form? You bet - back-to-back Clasico wins in the space of five days - not bad going.

MP: What bearing does the result at the Bernabeu have on the second leg?

NR: It's a really tough one to call, but my initial reaction is that it should suit Madrid. Everyone knows their best qualities are in the counterattack and that's usually better-suited to away matches. United will see a 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital as a good result, and rightly so, but Mourinho knew the importance of not losing on home soil. It's probably a tougher call for United on how to approach the game - sit back like in the Bernabeu and hit on the break, or go more attacking on home soil, as many expect? For Madrid it's much the same - hit on the break. It's one thing to know Los Blancos will do that, but it's another thing to stop it.

MP:How do you think Madrid will line up?

NR: Lopez in goal, a back four of Arbeloa, Ramos, Varane and Fabio Coentrao, with Sami Khedira and Alonso the middle two, Ozil behind Higuain and Ronaldo out on the left and di Maria out on the right. There should be no surprises. Higuain and Karim Benzema are interchangeable, but the sight of Benzema playing on Saturday (and not really being in good form) will probably see the Argentine start.

MP: Will Madrid employ different tactics this time around?

NR: I wouldn't have thought so, as mentioned above. They'll play just as they did in the Bernabeu, but they'll probably expect a bit more pressure and time with the ball from United, which they'll hope will enable more counterattacking moves. Madrid need to score, and both Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson are expecting goals, so expect a jet-heeled start by Madrid - something they love to do. Really come flying out of the traps and take the game to their hosts, show them who's boss.

MP: What do you think the result will be?

NR: As with the first leg, this is genuinely a nightmare to call, which should make it fantastic for the neutrals. Madrid are hitting form at just the right time and they need this trophy to avoid a bit of a disaster of a campaign domestically. I'm going for 3-2 Madrid. Ronaldo on the score sheet, of course.

Follow Mark on twitter @markjpayne; follow Nick at @nicholasrigg

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