The Manchester United perspective

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Like a neat one-two between Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil - or should that be Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney? - I've linked up with ESPNFC's Manchester United correspondent Mark Payne to do an inter-blog question-and-answer piece ahead of Wednesday's Champions League last 16 first-leg tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.

I've given my Madrid-centric thoughts on the United page, and Mark has been kind enough to return the favour here. All nice and cooperative before the match explodes into life. We'll make sure we do the same come the second leg - where it might not be as nice and cooperative, depending on the outcome on Wednesday night ...

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


NR: How do you think United will/should line up on Wednesday?

MP: This is the million-dollar question. The trick will be in not leaving us too exposed to the imminent danger that Madrid will pose, while also allowing our formidable attackers the opportunity to shine. In simple terms, we need players who can "put in a shift." Wayne Rooney is crucial to this and will probably start wide left. Robin van Persie picks himself of course.

Our midfield has looked best with Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick in it this season and that would be my preferred pairing. It will also calm the nerves if we see Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic together, with Rafael and Patrice Evra at fullback.

Fergie loves to spring a tactical surprise from time to time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson, or even Nani, given the chance to shine. Obviously, whoever plays will have to be prepared to face as good an opponent as we have met in years.

NR: How are confidence levels of getting a good result at the Bernabeu and progressing to the next round?

MP: I’m not sure any United fans would have said right out that they are heading to Spain with the aim of claiming a solid victory. The nature of being a fan of this club is that excitement builds as the occasion nears.

Come kickoff, everybody will be in full voice and believing anything is possible. We are capable of scoring anywhere. Madrid will know this too.

NR: What would be a good result for United on Wednesday?

MP: Any victory would be superb. Fergie will want at least a goal. I’m hoping to enjoy the match.

NR: United are well clear at the top of the Premier League. How does the current team rank with previous ones?

MP: Numerically, they compare well. This is the highest point total a United team has ever claimed at this stage of the season.

However, the history books are full of teams with characters that this squad seems to lack. The midfield starkly lacks a dominant personality and the defence has been decidedly wobbly.

Good, but they’d need to win a treble to be considered up there with the greats.

NR: Cristiano Ronaldo will get a top reception on Wednesday, and the return leg - will he not? Will there be any special treatment for him on the pitch?

MP: There were occasional rumours of some needle between Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy, but the Dutchman is long gone now. Although people like Paul Scholes are unlikely to appreciate Ronaldo’s vanity, they will all respect him. Everybody at Manchester United knows how hard Ronaldo has worked to get where he is. He deserves all the accolades. I have no doubt his name will be cheered at Old Trafford, he will also get a standing ovation I’m sure. United fans are great with this stuff.

Rafael spoke this week of "knowing how Ronaldo plays." It seems that the less space he has in front of him the less effective he is. If you let him run at you, you’re dead. My guess is they will try to close him down as quickly as possible. If they can.

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

MP: As mentioned above, Rooney will play a key role. He can physically unsettle anybody and will need to put himself about ruffling feathers in the Madrid midfield and defence. Create enough bother there and we can get at them.

Robin van Persie only needs half a chance to score; let’s hope we give him one.

Containing Ronaldo will, of course, be a team job, but many commentators suspect that Rafael will be in for a tough night’s work. I tend to agree.

NR: And what about any weaknesses you're afraid Madrid may exploit?

MP: We have been rubbish at defending in-swinging crosses this year. Southampton, West Ham and others have all exploited this. I’m sure Mourinho knows about it too.

NR: Mourinho looks to be facing his last season at the Bernabeu, however the season now pans out, so would you take him at Old Trafford as Ferguson's successor?

MP: Personally I would. Whoever takes over will not be around for as long as Fergie. We need the next manager to come in and win a league title so we don’t get jinxed with a post-Fergie complex. Mourinho would do that.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkJPayne; Follow Nicholas at @nicholasrigg

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