The footballing world has had to wait for 9 years, 10 months and 20 days which is almost a decade ago for these two footballing giants once again go head to head in a Champions League Round of 16 clash. The last time they met was one stage up front which was the Quarter Finals stage and as expected; it was a match that lived up to everyone’s expectations whereby a thrilling attacking display was witnessed both at Bernabeu and Old Trafford.
2002-03 Season: Real Madrid 6: 5 Manchester United
Just as there was a class of 92 & a treble winning class of ’99 for Manchester United which included players like the baby faced assassin Ole Gunna Solksjaer, the Ruthless Roy Keane, the Dutch sensation Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the English wonder kid of David Beckham and his partners from the class of 92 still playing, the era of 2000-2003 was an era of Los Galacticos where Madrid were a team filled with stars from the samba country like Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos, the greatest modern midfielder to have played the game from France, Zinedine Zidane, the Spanish Legend Raul only to be later joined by the English Sensation David Beckham and many others.
While the scoreline shows how close the match went last time, the actual fact was; the match was won at Bernabeu where the then Defending Champions Real Madrid had knocked in three past the Red Devils. A Sole consolation was the single away goal that the Reds had taken back home in the hope to turn things around. While they did start fluently and attacked against Madrid to knock in a goal in the first half, Madrid and its stars had different things on their mind as they pounded three past the Red Devils on their own backyard. Just when many felt the match was over, Manchester United time and again proved why they were known as the Comeback kings! An own goal from Ivan Helguera and 2 late goals from the substitute David Beckham produced a ruthless attacking match where 7 goals were scored on that day. But when the whistle blew out finally, it was Madrid who progressed on their way forwards courtesy of a healthy three away goals and a fragile one goal difference over the two legs. While the Red Devils just had pride to take forwards avoiding a defeat at home!
Rolling a decade down the line
Since that match (or) that previous season then, Real Madrid have not won the Champions league nor reached the finals of the Champions league for a decade now. While Manchester United have won the most coveted trophy in European Club football once during the 2007-08 season and reached the finals twice in 3 years between 2008 to 2011 against the other Spanish giants Barcelona, finishing runners up twice on both the occasions. In terms of the league, Real Madrid has won the league 4 times including the 2002-03 season in the last decade including this season which has proven to be a less than average campaign while Manchester United have won a record 19times in the Premier league era with 5 times & look set to win a record 20th title this season having a 12 point cushion which would make it a record 6 times in the last decade.
A lot of players have since moved (or) retired from both the teams where most currently the Portugese sensation in the name of Christiano Ronaldo completed his dream move to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee and most notably David Beckham & Ruud Van Nistelrooy who were the other two Manchester United players who moved to Bernabeu during the 2003 and 2006 seasons respectively. But there remains two players from the class of 92 for Manchester United who are still playing in the Red colors with the same will to succeed and the passion to win them all; they are none other than the great Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. While Madrid have had a complete over hauling of their side, there still remains Madrid’s most loyal player in the name of Iker Casillas although he is injured for tonight’s clash at Bernabeu.
The Team of the Present and their Current Form
If you need a look at the World’s most expensive footballing stars, there is no other place than Santiago Bernabeu. With a lethal lineup of Ronaldo-Higuan-Benzema at the front, a midfield packed with the tireless machines of Khedira-Xabi Alonso-Ozil-Di Maria-Modric-Essien and the stronger Defense of Ramos-Albiol-Carvalho-Coentrao-Varane-Pepe, this Real Madrid team looks much stronger, sharper and lethal on paper than the previous Los Galacticos. But there is a reason why they say, Football is not played on Paper. Real Madrid have been a typical example going hand in hand together with that quote because they have done no justice to the wealth of talent that they have at their disposal. Being 16 points behind their fiercest rivals Barcelona and finishing second in what was called as the “Group of Death”, has piled more pressure on their coach as well as their players to win the European Championship for the 10th time. Ronaldo has carried his team all over again on his shoulder, netting his 18th hat trick in La Liga which is a record, while the have chipped in here and there.
On the contrary, no one, not even the Manchester United fans dreamt in their wildest dreams that their team would be 12 points ahead in the Premier league with their fiercest rivals boasting a tremendous attack at the front. But the trump card of buying another Dutch sensation in the name of Robin Van Persie, whom many have touted to be the next Ruud Van Nistelrooy, has proved to be the buy of the season so far. With 19 goals in Premier League and many assists, he has jelled into the team as he has been ever before. Not to forget the English Hitman Wayne Rooney, who has had such an impressive last 10 games, would be the man to look out for.
Both the teams have had a strong run in their respective leagues so far after the start of New Year, but if one looks at the form book & consistency, it has been Manchester United and its players who have been consistent in finishing off matches having last tasted a defeat in 1st week of December in all competitions while Madrid had lost against Granada 1-0 away 2 week back. Though Manchester United have had a tremendous Momentum coming into this match at Bernabeu, they have their own weak links in the form of their Midfield where this current Madrid side would surely have a cakewalk. Despite having a superior Midfield, Real Madrid need to show their potential on the field against a team like Manchester United who will definitely eat into complacency if shown some.
Ronaldo v Rooney
None other than these two know much better about each other than the others. They have played together when the either has helped each other to win matches, score and assist goals, win trophies in the united colors of Red. But when these two friends meet each other and get into the field, neither friendship nor anything else can prevent them from wanting them respective teams to win. There have been many similarities about these two as and when Ronaldo departed for Madrid. While Ronaldo became Madrid’s focal point around which the entire team operates, Rooney has become the Red Devil’s focal point. These two players have carried their team forwards for the last 3 seasons. They both can drive in some pile drivers past the defense, can take free kicks that makes us wonder in awe, can head some thumping headers past the keepers and can take penalties with a much successful rate (athough the rate of conversion for Rooney has dropped in the last few seasons where he has missed 6 out of 10 penalties).
Is there anything else that they two guys are different in about other than physique & nationality? Yes, there is. There is a fact that places them wide apart – Ronaldo has been working overtime scoring goal after goal amassing records that none other than Lionel Messi can match or catch up to. Such is the goal scoring form that he is currently at an all-time 6th in the top scorers in Real Madrid’s history with a goal ratio of a goal per match with 120 goals to go before he takes the top spot. In the pace that he is currently going, it is certain that in another 2 seasons, this record will bear CR7’s name as well. On the other hand, Rooney has evolved himself into a team player having played at all the positions this season after his goal scoring burden was shared with the latest Dutch Sensation. Such is the impact that Rooney has; he dropped into defense as well recently being against Everton about 3 days back. That doesn’t mean Rooney’s goal scoring form has dipped either; he is currently Manchester United’s all time 4th in top scorers list about a 50 goals away from being the number one.
While the Independent Sports Tablet had this to say, “Manchester United beware… Cristiano Ronaldo scores yet another hat-trick”, the Spanish Marca had quoted about Rooney as being, “A freckled demon, built like a barrel packed with gunpowder is on its way to Madrid to try to blow up the Bernabeu”. These are such strong words and one thing’s for sure that these two men – best friends off the field, warriors on the pitch are definitely the men on a mission to blow up Bernabeu tonight.
The Master v The Legend – Jose Mourinho v Sir Alex Fergusson
14 times it is, that these two Managerial greats have gone together against each other in a match, in which Mourinho has triumphed a whopping 11 times against the Legendary Sir Alex at his time in Porto, Chelsea & Inter Milan. No other manager in Sir Alex’s history of 25 years has given him such troubles than the “Special One” Jose Mourinho. Although it has been years since they were fiercest rivals on pitch going head to head week in week out while Jose was still at Chelsea, the after math years have been a calm, to put it better their friendship has bloomed a lot as we have publicly seen over the years. Such has been their respect for each other that, Jose claims “Sir Alex Ferguson will carry on working until he is 90” and Sir Alex stated “Mourinho can replace me at Manchester United”.
What have been the proven qualities of success that we have witnessed over the years that between them they have atleast won 50 trophies together. Both Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex are born to be winners, mainly because they never get emotional enough! It is frequently told in the game of life that Winners never get emotional; well that has been their secret. The emotions have never got into the minds of these two greats. Their tactical awareness – while Jose was educated and flourished in the modern era, Sir Alex has re-educated himself into a modern style of football. Winners are those who equip themselves to the change that keeps occurring and these two have been ready with the armors to battle “Change”.
Though Jose Mourinho is ahead in his tactical awareness, Sir Alex is the best person to break one’s tactics and tear them apart. While Jose Mourinho may have triumphed 11 times over Sir Alex, deep down Mourinho knows Sir Alex is not to be under estimated.
Though Manchester United have lost the last two times they have faced Madrid in Champions league, Real Madrid know not to take the Red Devils lightly. On the other hand, though Madrid have not won or been to the finals of the Champions league for the last decade, Manchester United would never underestimate this quality Madrid side. Each of them has respect for one another, but when they take to the field today, they will be playing with one thing in mind – to beat the other.
Real Madrid 2 – 2 Manchester United.