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Master meets apprentice in Madrid

ESPN staff
February 13, 2013
Will Jose Mourinho be celebrating a Cristiano Ronaldo masterclass? © Getty Images
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It's a case of the master facing the apprentice as Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United travel to face Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Star Wars fans will be all too aware that master was slayed by apprentice, as Darth Vader cut down Obi-Wan Kenobi who had nurtured his protege through his formative years prior to the youngster going rogue.

Ronaldo was polished from rough diamond to sparkling gem during his six years under Ferguson at Old Trafford. He in no way went rogue, United cashed in handsomly when Real bought Ronaldo in 2009, but he has taken his game to another level in his time in Madrid and he now gets the chance to face his old master.

Many will feel apprentice will slay master, but do United have a Luke Skywalker in their midst? Ferguson will hold out hope that Robin van Persie can fill that role. Whatever the outcome, hopefully without any blood spilt, the game has all the ingredients to deliver a box office hit.

Form

It's fair to say neither Jose Mourinho nor Ferguson can complain about their sides being out of form going into the game. Real have lost just once in 2013 - admittedly a surprise loss at Granada - but they have found scoring pretty easy. Real Sociedad, Getafe and Sevilla have had four put past them - while Valencia picked the ball out of the net five times on January 20. And it is talisman Ronaldo who has led the way - his 20th hat-trick came in the win over Sevilla on Saturday.

If Real are smoking hot, United are positively on fire. The Premier League challenge of rivals Manchester City is lessening by the week - with the red half of Manchester now 12 points clear following a run of 16 points from a possible 18 in 2013.

Team news

Phil Jones and Jonny Evans emerged as doubts for United after picking up injuries against Everton, but both trained on Tuesday and should feature in the squad. Evans will be pushing for a start in defence, but Ferguson may opt for the experience of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Jones could be asked to do a holding job in midfield. Paul Scholes has not travelled due to concerns about a knee problem.

Xabi Alonso was the main concern for the home side having missed Spain's recent friendly and the win over Sevilla. He is still nursing a groin complaint but took part in training and is likely to start. Mourinho's dilemma is who to leave out, with Pepe and Raphael Varane vying for a centre-back berth, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria jostling for a midfield start and Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain eyeing a place in attack.

Head-to-head battles

  • Diego Lopez v David de Gea

    Two keepers in the spotlight for different reasons, with one replacing an injured legend and another under pressure to live up to his reputation

  • Rio Ferdinand v Pepe

    One of England's finest ball-playing defenders against a no-nonsense stopper. Brain against brawn

  • Cristiano Ronaldo v Robin van Persie

    Darth Vader v Luke Skywalker. Sadly for the rebel alliance, this could be one for the Mourinho empire

One to watch

Xabi Alonso
The focus is all on Ronaldo but there is quality all over the field for both teams. Ronaldo rightly takes the headlines but Alonso is the unsung hero, shielding his defence and springing attacks. He is nursing a groin problem so it will be interesting to see how he operates.

Key battle

It's likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo versus however many men Ferguson chooses to deploy against his former charge. Fronting that battle is likely to be Rafael. The Brazilian youngster looked suspect defensively earlier in his United career, but he has flourished of late. He has pace to burn and kept Gareth Bale relatively quiet in a recent meeting with Tottenham. Ronaldo is a step, or more likely two, up in class but should Rafael keep him shackled, do not be surprised to see Ronaldo go roaming for someone else to 'bully'.

Prediction and bet

There's not likely to be a lot between the two sides and if the match lives up to the pre-game hype we are likely to be in for an attacking firecracker. Both sides possess brilliant forwards and home advantage could well tip the balance in Real's favour. Real are 13/20 to win the game, while they can also be backed at 8/1 with bet365 to win the match 1-0.

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