Real Madrid Vs Manchester United – How the sides compare

With United set to take on fellow European giants Real Madrid tonight in the first leg of their Champions League second round clash at the Santiago Bernabeau, here is a look at how the teams match up.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho

Which of these two great friends and managerial giants will come out on top at the Bernabeau?

Real Madrid likely line-up:

(4-2-3-1)

Diego Lopez

Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Fabio Coentrao

Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso

Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria

Karim Benzema

 

Manchester United likely line-up:

(4-3-2-1)

David De Gea

Rafael Da Silva, Nemanj Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra

Michael Carrick, Phil Jones

Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney

Robin Van Persie

 

The Goalkeepers:

David De gea hasn’t exactly been in sparkling form of late for Manchester United but he has continued to demonstrate and underline his undoubted shot-stopping ability. He is still vulnerable when under attack from crosses but he has arguably been the recipient of some unfair criticism recently as he is still young and still will make mistakes and particularly in the Premier League which is renowned as being one of the most physical in world football.

At the other end of the field to De Gea will be Diego Lopez who has recently made a January return to the Santiago Bernabeau. Having spent the vast majority of this season warming the bench he has found himself thrown into the limelight back in Madrid having been signed following the broken hand which Iker Casillas suffered shortly before the close of the transfer window.

He may not have played a great deal of football this season but he has built a fine reputation throughout his career in Spain and he has impressed since his return and the lack of high pressure action doesn’t seem to have had too much of an effect on him.

 

Player Rating:

De Gea: 8/10

Lopez: 8/10

 

Form Rating:

De Gea: 8/10

Lopez: 8/10

 

The Defences:

Manchester United started the season looking incredibly shaky at the back and this wasn’t helped by the number of injuries they suffered in the heart of their defence. Now though they have a full compliment of centre-halves back in action and with all their options returning they have gradually steadied the ship. They have picked up a few more clean sheets of late and they will be particularly pleased with the increased maturity of right back Rafael this season as well as the return to prominence of Patrice Evra who has been back to his best after a shaky 2011/12 season.

Madrid too have struggled defensively this term and have yet to work out exactly what is their best four man combination at the back. Amidst the gloom though, Sergio Ramos has emerged as the shining light of the Madrid defensive unit and young starlet Raphael Varane is coming along nicely in Ramos’ company, so much so in fact that he might ge the nod ahead of the more experienced Pepe this evening.

 

Defence Rating:

Manchester United: 9/10

Real Madrid: 8/10

 

Defence Form Rating:

Manchester United: 8/10

Real Madrid: 7/10

 

The Defensive Midfield Area:

Though this area of the field isn’t exactly United’s strongest department, they have been strengthened by Michael Carrick who has had a fantastic season and the recent return to fitness and form of defender-come-midfielder Phil Jones who has done a fantastic job of man-marking the likes of Luis Suarez and Marouane Fellaini in recent weeks. The trouble for United in this area though is that tonight they will be faced with the task of trying to nullify the potent threat of Cristiano Ronaldo whilst not ignoring the other attacking talents that Madrid possess.

Madrid, like United, are not deeply stocked in this area of the field but fortunately for them their two best operators in these positions, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso, are both available tonight. This pair will have to be at their very best tonight to cut off the creative source from Wayne Rooney who I think Jose Mourinho will earmark as the greatest threat to his defenders this evening.

 

Player Ratings:

Michael Carrick: 8/10, Phil Jones 7.5/10

Sami Khedira: 8/10, Xabi Alonso 9/10

 

Form Rating:

Michael Carrick 9/10, Phil Jones 8/10

Sami Khedira: 8/10, Xabi Alonso: 8/10

 

Attacking Midfield:

This is the area of the field in which both of the sides are most capable.

So strong indeed that there is only one must-pick for each side in this area of the field and those are Wayne Rooney for United and obviously Cristiano Ronaldo for Madrid.

The way the rest of the line-ups will look in this area of the field though is less predictable as United have Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa to pick from and Madrid have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Jose Callejon to choose between.

 

Player Ratings:

Antonio Valencia: 8.5/10, Tom Cleverley: 8/10, Wayne Rooney: 9.5/10

Mesut Ozil: 9/10, Angel Di Maria: 8.5/10, Cristiano Ronaldo: 10/10

 

Form Ratings:

Valencia: 7/10, Cleverley: 8/10, Rooney: 9/10

Ozil: 7/10, Di Maria: 7/10, Ronaldo: 9.5/10

 

Up Top:

Manchester United capture of Robin Van Persie in the summer has improved the look of their squad no end. He has carried on his stunning form from last season at Arsenal and he has boosted the United squad to the point where it looks the best it has since they last won the Champions League and since the departure of Ronaldo to Madrid.

Leading the line for Madrid is Karim Benzema who has as many natural attributes as a centre forward could ever wish to have but it is hard not to feel as if he still hasn’t fully realised his potential. He has played against United before in his days at Lyon and has caused them a lot of problems so he will likely get the nod ahead of Gonzal0 Higuain.

 

Player Rating:

Robin Van Persie: 9.5/10

Karim Benzema: 8.5/10

 

Form Rating:

Van Persie: 9/10

Benzema: 7/10

 

The Totals:

 

Player Ratings (out of a total of 80):

 

Real Madrid:

69/80

Machester United:

68/80

 

Form Ratings (out of 80):

Real Madrid:

61.5/80

Machester United:

66/80

 

Score Prediction for tonight’s game:

Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester United

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Beware of the Drog: Premier League Icon Seeks Pastures New

In the wake of Didier Drogba’s announcement that he is to leave Chelsea this summer I have pondered about just where the Ivorian ranks amongst the Premier League’s best ever front-men. 

Drogba

Drogba has been one of the true entertainers of the Premier League era

In eight years as a Chelsea player, Drogba’s record matches up with most and he is leaving Stamford Bridge having accumulated an impressive haul of 10 major trophies, the most hard-earned and most significant of the lot of course being last Saturday’s Champions League win.

From the moment he signed for a seemingly over-inflated fee of £24 million to the moment he slotted the decisive penalty in the Champions League final and momentarily appeared to be worth that money a hundred times over, Drogba has been a captivating footballer to watch and I would almost certainly rank him as the best signing of the Roman Abramovic era.

To be labelled such a success is hugely complimentary given the enormous sums of money that Abramovic has poured into transfers and the following players provide just a small sample of the high profile and high valued signings which I would rank him above in a list of Roman’s greatest captures at Chelsea:Arjen Robben, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Fernando Torres, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Nicholas Anelka… the list could go on….

Indeed, there are few more flattering things that you could say about Drogba’s time in England than to label him “the best Abramovic-era signing” and perhaps the only greater context in which he could be placed as a Premier League footballer would be to rank him amongst the finest front-men ever to grace our top flight.

The bad side of Drogba:

I am in no doubt as to whether or not he deserves to leave behind him such a lofty legacy from his time in England. He has been phenomenal for Chelsea and though I have not always been particularly fond of him I do and always have rated him very highly indeed.

Below is my list of the best strikers ever to grace the Premier League…

 

The Top 10 (Not in Order):

 

1. Thierry Henry: The classy Frenchman combined raw pace with great technical ability and lethal finishing.

  1. Didier Drogba: Drogba has proved himself a master in the art of playing as a lone striker.
  2. Wayne Rooney: Rooney is arguably the most technically gifted centre-forward ever in the PL.
  3. Alan Shearer: Goals by the bucket load and an inspiring and down-to-earth demeanour.
  4. Eric Cantona: Goals, creation, skill, arrogance beyond compare and an overwhelming presence.
  5. Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Probably the best goal-poacher the PL has ever seen.
  6. Denis Bergkamp: Rooney’s rival in the technical ability department, oozed class.
  7. Fernando Torres: Prolific for Liverpool, not so far Chelsea thus far but could still be.
  8. Andy Cole: Great movement, great finisher. Shame he couldn’t re-produce it at international level.
  9. Michael Owen: If it weren’t for a string of long-term injury problems then he would have broken records.

 

Honourable Mentions: Robbie Fowler, Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka, Robin Van Persie, Gianfranco Zola, Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham

 

For me Drogba is definitely one of the top five strikers to have played Premier League football and his contributions for Chelsea have been unrivalled throughout his time at the club. He may not have endeared himself to all Premier League fans given his penchant for a manic outburst at officials and for an over-dramatic collapse to the deck but few can question the enormity of his contributions to Chelsea and to the Premier League as a whole.

The great side of Drogba:

It was entirely fitting that Drogba not only scored the decisive spot-kick in the Penalty Shoot-out triumph against Bayern but also the thumping header deep into the ninety pre-planned minutes of play, and though he hasn’t always been my cup of tea I was thrilled to see him contribute more than any other in Chelsea’s success.

I would argue that even at the age of 34 that there is still no better player in world football at playing as a lone striker than Drogba and though I never thought I would say this… I will miss you Didier.

The Summer Sales: Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao amongst those likely to pay for their success

As the summer draws closer and the vast majority of Europe’s domestic leagues are winding up for the summer break and the transfer window that comes with it, rumours are rife about who could go where and why they might seek pastures new.

It is the time of year when all sides who have either performed beyond their means or who have been outgrown by their leading lights fear the most as they head into the year’s most lengthy and protracted period of transfer-related vulnerability.

We have already seen clear examples of what this summer’s transfer window may have to offer as the Bundesliga’s relegation threatened Cologne have lost their talismanic local hero Lukas Podolski to Arsenal for what appears a bit of a bargain. Arsenal have also moved to try and avoid last season’s mad rush for recruits on deadline day by attempting to secure a deal for Yann M’Vila who is also fast becoming too big a fish in the small pond that is Rennes.

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

In addition to  players like Podolski and M’Vila shining at their clubs and attracting attention from ‘Big-Time’ clubs from around Europe, there are also whole clubs around Europe who may pay the price for their success and they could be set to lose multiple players over the forthcoming summer.

Benfica, having forced their way ahead of Porto in Portugal’s domestic pecking order for much of the Portugese league season and having entertained en-route to a place in the last eight of the Champions League are now surely set for a summer of fending off interest in their most-prized assets.

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

Arguably the hottest property at the club is their versatile attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many potential suitors with his strong performances both in Portugal and in the Champions League. It is the creative talents of the 24 year-old Argentine which have earned himself a now regular slot in amongst Argentina’s rather special attacking contingent in the national squad and that have drawn interest from huge club’s like Manchester United who have been linked more closely with securing his services than any other side.

Another huge talent plying his trade at Benfica is Swiss international Axel Witsel who has this season emerged as one of Europe’s most talented and

Witsel has shone this season and a big club will surely come calling

combative central midfielders. His consistently strong and disruptive performances amongst Benfica’s talented midfield impressed has I’m sure impressed many scouts at the top European clubs, and perhaps never more so than in Benfica’s Champions League group games which resulted in them outdoing both Manchester United and FC Basle.

Benfica’s impressive displays this year may have gone some way towards re-building their reputation and improving their financial outlook but if they don’t manage to hold onto the likes of Gaitan and Witsel then it could well have cost them dear when it comes to the strength of their playing personnel.

Another club who could come under the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs are Borussia Dortmund who have for the second season running overcome Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa and Gotze both look set to fly the nest at Dortmund

Already it is being said that Shinji Kagawa might have agreed a deal with Manchester United which would be a major loss for the German club and others may well follow him out of the door as Dortmund have failed to cash in on their domestic success with a strong return to European football.

Centre-backs Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels have both impressed greatly over the past couple of seasons and have also become key players in their respective national set-ups and it would be absolutely no surprise if Europe’s major forces tried to recruit either one of them.

The jewel in Dortmund’s crown though is Mario Gotze the diminutive, young attacking midfielder and he again is being linked with a move away having featured regularly in transfer talk throughout much of the past two years. If he were to part company with Dortmund it would perhaps be the greatest loss of them all as he is very much the golden boy at the German Champions and he is the very embodiment of all that has been positive about their re-emergence as a major force in German football.

Another side likely to be the subject of a lot of transfer attention are Athletic Bilbao who have won many admirers during their European adventures this season. Though their Europa League campaign ultimately ended in major disappointment when they lost 3-0 to fellow Spanish side Athletico Madrid, many of their young and talented squad have caught the eye of on-looking scouts and as they are a side struggling to break into La Liga’s upper echelons and into real contention to secure Champions League football they will surely lose a hold of some of their stars this summer.

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

The two most sought after members of their squad would appear to be versatile holding-midfielder and captain Javi Martinez and their star striker Fernando Llorente both of whom were a part of Spain’s world cup winning squad in 2010.

Martinez, who has for a long time been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has starred for Bilbao and has demonstrated great maturity in captaining a side who have impressed under his leadership in spite of his relatively tender age. Not often is one so young placed in such a position of responsibility at a football club but Martinez has led by example providing much of the thrust which has made his Bilbao side such a dynamic force this season. He may be reluctant to leave such a prominent and valued role at his boyhood club but he will also be aware that he must be playing Champions League football if he is to fulfil his ambitions of becoming a regular in Spain’s line-up.

The same can also be said of Llorente who’s sublime volley against Manchester United in the Europa League will live long in the memory. If his talents aren’t also taken onto the next level, which is surely regular Champions League football, then perhaps he will miss out on the opportunity to stay ahead of the likes of Fernando Torres in Spain’s pecking order.

It would be a surprise if Bilbao managed to hold on to both Martinez and Llorente in the wake of their hiccup in the final of the Europa League and their consequent failure to secure Champions League football for next season but perhaps they can be hopeful of holding onto another of their prodigious talents Iker Muniain who is maybe a step behind the likes of Martinez in terms of his development.

The diminutive forward has provided great support for Llorente over the course of this season and though Bilbao have the means to hold onto him for now it might well be beyond their power if he decides that he is already primed for a first crack at Champions League football. There will certainly be no shortage of sides willing to look into the possibility of tempting him away from the San Mames if he does want out so expect rumour a plenty about where his future might lie this summer.

A big factor in Bilbao’s attempts to hold onto their emerging stars could be whether they manage to hold onto their Coach Marcelo Bielsa who has a fine record since taking charge and could perhaps be on the hit list for many of Europe’s top clubs. The club’s directors will though be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Barcelona have turned to Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s successor as Bielsa was the name on everbody’s lips as soon as the job became seemingly up for grabs.

If Bilbao’s agonising shortcoming in trying to secure Champions League football hasn’t already proved enough for their skipper and other key players, then surely the loss of Bielsa would put the final nail in the coffin in terms of sealing their respective decisions to part company with the Basque club.

It is indeed sad for football that many emerging sides tend to lose the best of their playing crop every time they show any major signs of development and bridging the gap that lies between them and the more dominant clubs in Europe but that is the nature of the modern game. Money talks and so does the opportunity to play at a higher level on a more regular basis, so expect the likes of Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao to pay for their success and have to fight valiantly in order to hold onto their most prized assets.

Other names to watch out for in this summer’s transfer market:

Radamel Falcao (Athletico Madrid), Hulk (Porto), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Eden Hazard (Lille), Loic Remy (Marseille), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Ola John (FC Twente), Luuk De Jong (FC Twente), Cristian Eriksen (Ajax) Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax), Leighton Baines (Everton), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)

Who will step into the AVB shaped hole at Chelsea?

After a tumultuous few months of charge Andre Vilas-Boas has run out of time and Roman Abramovic has once again wielded his managerial axe. Yet another league defeat has left Chelsea sitting uncomfortably in fifth place and after Arsenal’s near-miraculous ‘smash and grab’ win over Liverpool they are fast losing ground on those competing with them to secure Champions League qualification.

Now that the pressure of poor results has finally told on Andre Vilas-Boas the focus turns to who Roman Abramovic deems worthy of stepping into the breach on a permanent basis. In the wake of AVB’s tricky tenure at the club it seems likely that he will turn his attentions towards more experienced and more high profile candidates in a move to appease the sections of the Chelsea support that hold him firmly responsible for the stuttering period of time that the club has endured since Abramovic opted for Vilas-Boas’ rather wildcard appointment last summer.

Some of the names being touted by the press and the many varied betting companies include Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez, Fabio Capello, Pep Guardiola and then some far less glamorous and high profile candidates such as Brendan Rogers and David Moyes who wouldn’t exactly fit the mould of a classical Abramovic appointment but that isn’t to say they wouldn’t do a fantastic job. Below I have taken a closer look at the favourites to land the job and have analysed key factors such as their availability and their suitability to the role.

Rafael Benitez:

Benitez is arguably the strongest contender of those being most closely linked with the job. He has a great wealth of managerial experience both in England and abroad, he has a Champions League win under his belt (something of great appeal to Mr.Abramovic) and as a result of his experience and successes he would certainly come with the sort of reputation that a certain Russian oligarch tends to take a liking to.

Availability Rating: 9/10 He is currently not managing and has barely done so since parting company with Liverpool in acrimonious fashion back in 2010. Only a very brief stint at Inter Milan has served to fill part of this absence from regular management and you would imagine that an offer from a big club like Chelsea would be very hard to turn down.

Suitability: 9/10 In spite of a a shaky time at Inter, Benitez has been a very impressive and successful club manager and with his CV boasting a Champions League victory he appears to be an ideal fit. Chelsea are undoubtedly in a spot of bother at the moment, but one would imagine that Benitez is media savvy enough to handle the tough times having spent several years in front of the media’s gaze at Liverpool in what was a tricky period off the field for the club.

Mourinho and Benitez both have great track records in English football

Jose Mourinho:

As is always the case when a big English club needs a new manager, Jose Mourinho is being linked with the role. I myself can’t see it happening given his past with the club and with the owner in particular but stranger things have happened and I would stop short of completely ruling out the possibility of the ‘Special One’ making a return to his beloved Chelsea.

Availability Rating: 7/10 It is hard to see Jose leaving Real Madrid when he is on the verge of securing a first La Liga title since joining the club but he has often shown signs of major frustration in his time in the Spanish capital. If he were to leave Madrid it would surely not be until the summer but perhaps the act of breaking Barcelona’s stay of power at the top of the Spanish footballing charts would be the perfect way for him to bow out.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 There is no doubt that the Chelsea fans would love him to return to the club and there is no doubting how brilliant a job he did for the Blues but a move back to the club while Roman Abramovic is still calling the shots might just provide the impassable stumbling block. He left the club on poor terms with the powers that be and one would think his pride and tremendous ego would convince him not to re-trace his managerial footsteps under the current conditions at Chelsea.

Roberto Di Matteo:

The man charged with taking care of the club on an interim basis has a great history with Chelsea after a successful period as a player for the club and he is certainly a popular man amongst the Chelsea faithful. Having said that though it would be hard to see Abramovic backing another very young manager in the wake of AVB’s tough few months at the helm. If things go well during his stint in charge of the team though then who knows if he can force his way into the reckoning?

Having never managed a 'big club' this opportunity might have come a little too early for Di Matteo

Availability Rating: 10/10 Already at the club formerly as a player and as Vilas-Boas’ assistant and now as the caretaker boss, he would surely love the chance to take on the job on a full-time basis.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 His place in the Chelsea fan’s hearts puts him right up there and he is the man in possession in a way but it really does seem farfetched that Abramovic would consider another young and fairly inexperienced option.

Pep Guardiola:

Guardiola fits the bill but is he remotely available and could he really be tempted?

He may be young but boy has he been successful. I guess you could have said that about Andre-Vilas Boas but he hadn’t quite produced the football or the scale of success that Guardiola has since taking charge at Barcelona.

There have been plenty of murmurings about Guardiola’s future at Barca given their recent ‘struggles’ in their pursuit of Real Madrid in La Liga but he is a proud young manager and he might find it too hard to leave the club on a bad note. He has built a dynasty at Barca and perhaps Chelsea could provide the ideal platform for his second managerial project?

Availability Rating: 5/10 There is a chance he may leave Barca at the end of the season whether they bag themselves a major trophy such as the Champions League or not but I would be surprised if he actively decided to leave the club for a team who are currently a world away from the successes that he has enjoyed over the past few years.

Suitability Rating: 9/10 He has a great pedigree for a young manager and his youth and inexperience is hardly comparable to that of AVB seeing as he has already managed a super-power of world football for several seasons and that he has taken them to Champions League glory. He now comes with great form and a reputation for building a successful dynasty at a club with great building blocks in place and this makes him an ideal candidate for the job if there was any way of convincing him to give up sunny Spain for the Royal Borough of Chelsea.

Fabio Capello:

In the wake of his tough time as England manager, the prospect of managing a big English club might not be

Would the 'Iron Sergeant' fancy his chances of proving himself in English football?

entirely tempting for Capello. He was subject to some fairly intense media pressure in his time in charge of the national side and this alone might put him off setting up base in London again.

Having said that, Capello has an absolutely fantastic reputation when it comes to club management and he would come with the right sort of experience and profile for someone of Abramovic’s particular tastes. Could Fabio honestly face such swift return to the English capital?

Availability Rating: 8/10 He is unattached having recently walked out on the national side but Capello might just fancy a little period out of the game before taking on one last big challenge in his managerial career.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 He is a proven top-class club manager and he has won the Champions League with Milan just as previous Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had done and in truth he would make for a very similar appointment. It is only his strained relationship with the English media and his reputation for being such a stern and defiant man that defies his suitability to the role.

David Moyes:

If Abramovic is looking for a down to earth manager with a great wealth of English managing experience then he should look no further. Moyes has done a terrific job in his many years at Everton and has proven the value of sticking with a manager for a long period of time something which isn’t exactly typical of an Abramovic appointment. Could Roman be ready to change his ways though?

He wouldn’t be a type-cast new manager for Chelsea but could he be the right option? I personally think that Moyes could do a very good job at any English club given his Premier League experience and the stellar job he has done on a very limited budget in his time at Goodison Park.

Moyes would be a surprise given Abramovic's penchant for glamorous appointments

Availability Rating: 7/10 He is fairly happy at Everton in spite of the limited financial support he has received in his time at the club, but he could be tempted by a big challenge like Chelsea and Everton would be fairly powerless to stand in his way given the tremendous service he has given to the club over a long period of time.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 I don’t doubt Moyes’ ability to manage Chelsea on a week-to-week basis in the Premier League but he has little to no experience of Europe’s premiere competition, the Champions League.  This may not effect his performance in the role if he were given the opportunity but such uncertainty may effect Abramovic’s judgement when it comes to deciding upon AVB’s successor. I think Moyes could be brilliant for Chelsea but I just can’t see him tickling Roman’s fancy.