Manchester United vs. Real Madrid
This will be the Game of Gus, though we’ll hit the mute button for a moment, as there are some tremendous, concurrent storylines. This is “Manchester United” and “Real Madrid.” These are soccer’s two biggest clubs and professional sports’ two most valuable teams. Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to the club where he won the Champions League and the Ballon D’Or. “The Special One” Jose Mourinho has what may be his last opportunity to fulfill his “special mission” at Real Madrid, winning their 10th Champions League title. He could also become the first manager in history to lift the trophy at three different clubs.
The last time Man U and Real Madrid met was in the 2003 Champions League quarterfinals. They produced perhaps the tournament’s best all-time match. Down 3-1 after the first leg, Man U had to open up and go for it at home. Brazilian legend Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. David Beckham, controversially left on the bench, came on to score twice in the second half. Man U won 4-3, but were eliminated 6-5 on aggregate.
Manchester United bought Robin Van Persie from Arsenal last summer, instead of a young dynamic midfielder. It has worked out well for them. RVP is the Premier League’s top scorer. United are rolling at the top of the EPL, 12 points ahead of second-place Manchester City through 26 matches.
Real Madrid have not had a real good time in La Liga this season. They have won just 14/23 matches and sit 16 points back of Barcelona, in third-place. Second is cross-town rival Atletico Madrid. Internal discord has dominated the headlines. The club are hoping the common goal of winning the Champions League will unite them. Real has not had the better season, but, on paper, they are the better team. A European title would wash the rest away.
Much may depend on Manchester United’s approach. Sir Alex Ferguson claims he wants to attack Real Madrid, but that may be foolish. Real are the most fearsome counterattacking side in the world. With Ronaldo, Ozil and others, they are as armed as anyone for a shootout. Even for Manchester United, the best strategy may be to sit back and not give them space to run.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund
This is the definite undercard, though still a compelling match. Dortmund are suffering a down year domestically, after winning the past two Bundesliga titles. That said, they were awesome in Europe, going undefeated in a group that featured English champions Manchester City and Spanish champions Real Madrid.
Shakhtar were also impressive, edging defending European Champions Chelsea on goal difference. The Ukranians could be at a disadvantage, though. They sold their Brazilian playmaker Willian to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala for $47 million in January. Because of their winter break, they also have not played a competitive match since the group stage ended in December.