Manchester United will make the daunting trip to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since 2003 as they attempt to take a positive result back to Old Trafford for the second leg of the two side’s Champions League last-16 tie.
The Red Devils appear to have the Premier League title sewn up after going a whopping 12 points clear of second-placed Manchester City with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Everton at the weekend. In contrast, reigning La Liga champions Madrid have struggled this season and sit a huge 16 points behind Barcelona in the standings amidst reports of unrest between senior players such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, and the coach Jose Mourinho, who is rumoured to be departing Los Blancos for England in the summer no matter what happens this season.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has declared the trip to the nine-times European champions as a huge test for his squad and is set to unleash both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie on the Madrid back-line. The Scot looks also set to recall Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick to the fray after the two were rested for the Everton win on Sunday, though Paul Scholes, who played against Real Madrid in both 2003 and 2000, misses out with a knee problem.
In the wider roles, Ferguson has a host of options, with Ashley Young fit again to complement the trio of Nani, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia, while Phil Jones may be afforded a chance in midfield after his man-marking job on Marouane Fellaini at the weekend.
For the hosts, the danger man is undoubtedly Cristiano Ronaldo, who will line up against the club he played for between 2003 and 2009, scoring 118 goals in 292 appearances in all competitions and leading the Red Devils to three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups and one Champions League trophy. Ronaldo already has 36 goals in 35 games this season and will be relishing the prospect of adding to that tally against his former employers and mentor manager.
Elsewhere, captain Iker Casillas misses out because of a broken hand so new signing Diego Lopez will continue in his place. Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira could all return after being rested for their side’s victory over Sevilla at the weekend while Karim Benzema should be preferred up front to Gonzalo Higuain.
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