Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Litmus test for the Red Devils

The Champions League first-leg match between possibly the 2 greatest sides in football gets under-way in a few hours. A few months ago, I would have said that Real Madrid was a banker to go through. They were, and are still I believe, the second best team in the world after Barcelona. Man Utd were, and are still, plagued by a woeful defence that sullies the good names of its predecessors. So, it was a no-brainer a few months back.

Some important variables have since changed and most of it is from Real. They are a club plagued by internal rife that has totally undone them in the domestic league. There is every plausible reason to believe that this could prolong to the Champions League. Mourinho is a great manager but he's shown he's a coach for 2-3 seasons at a club. His expiry date goes fast and it looks that his time in Madrid is up very soon. Worse, it looks like it won't be done with a happy hand-shaking, given the turmoil surrounding the club. All this has had an impact on the football from the team; they are a great team on paper but they've been overly exposed in recent months, showing many glimpses of a side that can easily undo itself. They will have to be at or near their best to overcome Man Utd.

This Man Utd side is unique in that there are so many polar and divided opinions about it. For some, they are a great team, close to the Treble team. For others, they are without any doubt several notches below and any attempt for comparison would be scandalous. This is why, I believe, this encounter with Madrid is the real litmus test. Beat them fairly and they will show they are a truly great side. I've said it before, I  like everything from this Utd team except its defence. I think their strike force and midfield is as strong as it's ever been. Robin Van Persie can score out of nothing and gives them unmatched firepower. The defence is a big concern. It is a mix of the unproven, error-prone and sell-past-date players that will make Christinao Ronaldo looking for a field day. Red Devil fans must hope that the back four can keep the goals-against respectable and let RVP and co do the damage on the other side of the pitch.

This tie is very much up for grabs. There are other story lines regarding Mourinho's good record against Ferguson. That's a fallacy to look at. They encountered twice in the Champions League and although the score is even, it should be the Scot enjoying a 2-0 score. When the Red Devils lost to Porto, they had a valid goal disallowed that would have settled the tie. The Portuguese were also lucky to pounce on a last-minute error by keeper Tim Howard to score the go-through goal. Were it not for that lucky result, Mourinho would not be bragging about his CL record, and who knows, maybe he wouldn't have been given the Chelsea manager role that made his name. The second time they met in the UCL, Man Utd outclassed and dumped Mourinho's Inter Milan team at the quarter final's stage when the Italians were favourites to go through.

I will sit on the fence on this one. Man Utd need to keep it tight at the back to have any chance. We will finally know how good or bad they are. In turmoil or not, Real Madrid are logical favourites to go through on paper. Enjoy the game.

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