Champions League: Manchester United host Real Madrid in the last 16 second leg
Sir Alex Ferguson has team selection decisions to make ahead of Manchester United's second leg against Real Madrid.
Last Updated: 05/03/13 4:28pm
Alex Ferguson has team selection decisions to make ahead of Manchester United's last-16 second leg against Real Madrid.
His first headache is the injury to Phil Jones. The 21-year-old was employed in a man-marking role on Cristiano Ronaldo during the first leg and, despite the Portuguese forward scoring with a first half header, Jones received plaudits for the way he handled Real's talisman.
With Jones' ankle injury, Ferguson must instead look elsewhere for a similar performer. This has to be a hardworking and mobile defensive midfielder, as Ronaldo's propensity to drop deep and roam out wide means that he must be tracked whenever possible. The options are Paul Scholes, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling. One suspects that Cleverley may well be the man for the job, although an experimentation of Smalling would also certainly make sense.
Or should Ryan Giggs get the nod? It would certainly be a testing way to mark his 1000th career appearance, but Ferguson may be worried about the veteran's mobility in his advancing years. Giggs received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu upon his introduction in the first leg, and this week spoke of his expectation that the game would be a thriller, predicting a repetition of the goal fest enjoyed in 2003, when Real ran out 4-3 winners. If he plays any part in the game, it would be a fitting occasion to mark such a milestone.
Ferguson's choice of forwards will also be under scrutiny, with some reports suggesting that the Manchester United manager may be considering dropping Wayne Rooney from the starting eleven in favour of a player with increased pace, such as Nani, Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young.
With Danny Welbeck rested for Saturday's game against Norwich and Robin Van Persie withdrawn with half an hour remaining, Rooney played the full 90 minutes, and with the striker's relative drop in form, Ferguson may instead opt for Van Persie up front with Shinji Kagawa in the hole behind (it will be difficult to drop the Japan international after his hat-trick at the weekend). That would leave Welbeck to operate on the left - as at the Bernabeu when he opened the scoring - and one other place on the right hand side available. Does Rooney really fit the bill for this?
Finally, Ferguson will have to make three in-form centre backs fit into two places. Jonny Evans has been United's unsung hero in the last two years, whilst both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have suffered with injuries. It seems crazy that Evans is yet to make 100 league appearances for United, and that simply emphasises the impression he has made at Old Trafford. United's manager must decide whether to continue to trust the Northern Irishman, or revert back to the old guard.
Things seem a touch more simple for Ferguson's counterpart Jose Mourinho. The injury to goalkeeper Iker Casillas means that Diego Lopez will continue to deputise, despite the Spanish No.1 returning to training last Thursday.
Elsewhere, Raphael Varane will continue in defence after the 19-year-old's impressive run of starts recently, presumably in place of Pepe.
The only other real selection question will be whether Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain starts up front, and given that Benzema started for Saturday's El Classico (in which Mourinho rested a host of stars), the Argentinean Higuain looks to be the logical choice.
One thing both managers can agree on is the importance of the fixture. Mourinho was typically bullish in stating that he felt that the tie looked more like a final than a last-16 game, but the Portuguese coach is right in stating that the "world will stop for this tie."
Ferguson, meanwhile, feels that the match will live up to its huge hype.
"There has been a massive build-up. You can see from the number of photographers at the training ground today - that is an indication of how important a game it is for both clubs," Ferguson said.
"I don't think it gets any bigger than this for a European night. It's set up to be a potentially marvellous game - I don't think we'll be disappointed."Phil Jones has been ruled out with an ankle injury. The 21-year-old sustained the injury during the FA Cup victory over Reading, and has not recovered in time.
Ryan Giggs could make his 1000th career appearance if selected in midfield. Giggs was rested for Saturday's game against Norwich.
Ferguson must pick two of his three in-form centre backs, with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans all pushing for a starting place.Goalkeeper Iker Casillas returned to training last Thursday after his recovery from a broken finger, but this game comes too soon.
Diego Lopez will continue to deputise for the Spain international.
Raphael Varane will continue in defence after impressing in place of Portuguese defender Pepe.
Gonzalo Higuain is expected to be selected in attack ahead of Karim Benzema.