In the 19th century, Theresa Berkley famously charged London’s upper classes for salacious acts of domination but, if alive today, even “the Governess” herself might be forgiven for casting a few envious glances in the direction of old Trafford.
Manchester United are, right now, football’s flagellators. They have earned more points. They have won more home games. They have won more away games. They have scored more goals. This season they are enjoying the longest unbeaten run in all four leagues of English football.
In the title race, their only enemy is complacency, or natural disaster. In the FA cup they have the prospect of Chelsea to keep their juices flowing, but it’s the Champions League that remains Fergie’s golden goose, and this week the competition offers fans another chance to indulge in a little R&R, courtesy of Wayne and Cristiano.
I don’t believe you can fake motivation, and the red devils have enough of it to run through brick walls, swim oceans, topple governments. It’s a chance to reinstate United as Kings of Europe, to take one step closer to Liverpool’s five European Cups, to gain redemption for last year’s feeble failures, and for Sir Alex Ferguson to match the great Bob Paisley’s unprecedented three wins in this tournament. They will tell you they are not thinking of such things, but they are.
That makes Real Madrid’s visit to Old Trafford their biggest game of the season so far. It’s one apiece from the first leg, but bring your best tactics, Mr Mourinho, as Fergie is waiting with his cat-o’-nine-tails.
I think it will come down to how mentally well prepared the players are. For me, Mourinho’s fighting talk is ringing a bit hollow. I think he’s lost a bit of his magic and that will transmit to his players. Sir Alex is not known for his caginess at home, so i think United will have a right go from the start. That could give Madrid a chance on the counter, but I can see United winning 2–1 in the final minute.
Fergie will want to attack Real rather than defend the away goal. So Van Persie is key because United will have to score on the night, as I’m sure Real will, too. I think there’s a real danger United could concentrate on Ronaldo too much. Özil could pose much more of a threat; likewise di Maria. They’ve also got pace, which could hurt United on the break. I want United to go through, but I’ve got a feeling that Madrid will nick it.
Coverage of Manchester Utd v Real Madrid begins tonight at 7:30pm on ITV