Man Utd Focus - Reds take control of Premier League as Real Madrid beckon
Manchester United opened up a commanding lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table thanks to victory over Everton on Sunday. Sir Alex Ferguson's side now hold a 12 point advantage over their city rivals, and look forward to the mouth-watering clash with Real Madrid in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
United have so far been relentless in their quest to regain the Premier League title, recording their highest ever points tally for this stage of a campaign. City's defeat against Southampton on Saturday evening gave the Reds an opportunity to stretch the gap with a win over David Moyes' side at Old Trafford. There was no repeat of last season's debacle as a two goal lead proved decisive, with Ryan Giggs' opener continuing his record of scoring in every single Premier League campaign since its inception in 1992.
Attention now turns to Wednesday's glamorous showdown with Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. The defending Spanish champions have struggled domestically so far this season, but boast a plethora of talent in their ranks, none more threatening than former United favourite Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese warmed up for his first appearance against Ferguson's team since departing in 2009 by bagging a hat-trick against Sevilla at the weekend, and poses the biggest headache for his old boss in the run-up to the clash at the Bernabéu.
Attention will be greatly centred on Ronaldo in the build-up to the tie, but United must concentrate on their own game in order to progress to the quarter-finals. Ferguson will undoubtedly have his plan for the former World Player of the Year, as he did for Marouane Fellaini yesterday, yet he will also put a big emphasis on his players to perform as they are able to do and concentrate on inflicting damage to the Madrid outfit on their own turf.
A positive result away from home is always priceless in the latter stages of European competition, and United possess the firepower to claim the away goals that would give them an advantage going into the second leg at Old Trafford. Confidence is high thanks to the control that has been assumed in the league, and in Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney the manager has two forwards that are in form and hungry for goals.
There will be concern due to the injuries sustained by Jonny Evans and Phil Jones against Everton, with options limited in the defensive aspect to Ferguson's approach to Wednesday's game. However the trusted partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand is likely to be deployed, and United supporters will be hoping that they are able to command the backline to the effect that they have in the past to keep out Real's talented attack.
The Premier League lead is now United's to throw away, and they will be hoping that there is no repeat of last season's collapse. A successful trip to Madrid will only increase the good feeling surrounding Old Trafford, and would be a fitting tribute to the memorial of the pioneering Busby Babes who were the first of the English clubs to venture out into Europe to take on the likes of the all-conquering Real Madrid.
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