The most high-profile match-up of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 kicks off today, when Real Madrid take on Manchester United at the Bernabeu in first leg of their series.
Real Madrid will need to make the most of home-field edge in the first leg of what is shaping up to be an entertaining and potentially high-scoring affair. Jose Mourinho takes on Sir Alex Ferguson in a clash of two of the most respected managers in the game and Mourinho will look to enjoy some more success against Ferguson after beating Manchester United in the Round of 16 with FC Porto and Inter Milan.
Ferguson will like his team chances in the match-up, especially with Robin Van Persie in top form and the team nearly at full strength (Paul Scholes is the biggest name sidelined for the Red Devils). Wayne Rooney and Van Persie will look to go after a Real Madrid defense that is missing goalkeeper Iker Casillas and just last week saw the return of Pepe from a lengthy injury absence. Cristiano Ronaldo will be facing his former club for the first time since leaving Old Trafford for Madrid.
Real Madrid-Manchester United is the headliner today, but the more fun match to watch may be the day’s other Round of 16 tie, between Borussia Dortmund and Shakhtar Donetsk. The two high-flying teams put together some of the impressive runs in the Champions League Group Stage and now they face off in what should be a back-and-forth encounter.
Donetsk is the home team for the first leg, but will come into the match at a disadvantage as they try to overcome the fact that the Ukrainian League is in a winter break and Donetsk has not been playing competitive matches. They are also dealing with the departure of Brazilian playmaker Willian, who was sold to Anzi Makhachkala this winter.
Borussia Dortmund have their own problems heading into the clash. Injuries to midfielder Ilkay Gündoğan, Patrick Owomoyela and Kevin Grosskreutz leave them short-handed, though they do have centerback Neven Subotic available after shrugging off a leg injury.
Here is a closer look at today’s Round of 16 Champions League matches:
REAL MADRID vs. MANCHESTER UNITED
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch: REAL MADRID- Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso; MANCHESTER UNITED- Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferndinand.
Quick Kicks: Real Madrid will be missing Iker Casillas, while Xabi Alonso and Raphael Varane are struggling with some injury concerns. They do have Pepe back from ankle surgery, having played his first match in six weeks last weekend (coming on as a substitute). Both Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are available after both leaving the win against Everton early on Sunday, while Paul Scholes is unavailable due to injury. Real Madrid will feel confident at home, having won eight of their past nine home games in Champions League play.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
2:45pm, MSG+, Fox Soccer Plus
Players to Watch: SHAKHTAR DONETSK- Luiz Adriano, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Teixeira, Fernandinho. BORUSSIA DORTMUND- Robert Lewandowski, Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Mats Hummels.
Quick Kicks: Starting Dortmund fullbacks Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelze are question marks for the first leg, and if they can’t play then Shakhtar could have a field day with Mkhitaryan on the left flank. Dortmund relies so much on their fullbacks getting into the attack that if they are reduced to second and third stringers in those spots, the Dortmund offense could be a step or two slow. Where Dortmund will have to take advantage is in what should be an edge in fitness given the fact Shakhtar has only played pre-season matches in preparation for this encounter. Shakhtar have their own injury and illness concerns with Ilsinho set to miss the match and Tomas Hübschman a question mark after recovering from chicken pox.
A notice to readers. If you want to watch today’s matches but can’t access a TV, http://www.foxsoccer2go.com is having a free one-week trial and showing both matches so you can sign up for the site and watch the matches live (and then you can cancel your sign-up when you are done if you choose).
What do you think of today’s match-ups? Do you see Real Madrid winning the first leg? Think Shakhtar can overcome being on their winter break, or do you see Dormtund shaking off some recent struggles?
Share your thoughts below.