So much is on the line today for two of the true heavies of European soccer, where the quarterfinal round will see the Champions League run end for either Manchester United or Real Madrid.
Both clubs have their own reasons to be desperate when the contest, tied at 1-1 after the clubs met three weeks ago in Madrid, returns today to fabled Old Trafford.
There, Manchester United and manager Sir Alex Ferguson remain on a season-long mission to atone for a 2011-12 campaign that just did not measure up to their top-shelf standards. The Red Devils are running away with the English Premier League crown, and getting past Jose Mourinho and Real today would inch Manchester United closer to another of those glorious seasons of multiple, major crowns.
They’ve had those before.
Kickoff for today’s titanic clash is 2:45 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.
Could a Champions League title be the one that gets Ferguson, a true legend in the game, to No. 50 in terms of major titles earned around Old Trafford? And not to get ahead of ourselves here, but what would a Champions League crown do for Ferguson’s plans going forward? He is 71, after all.
Meanwhile, the stakes look very different for Mourinho, an increasingly mighty figure in the game not very long ago, but now struggling to regain the swagger that once underlined his fast career advance. From the linked Daily Telegraph piece:
To see him so enfeebled over the last few months has been a disquieting experience. Many will say he had it coming. Plenty will feel he has failed to capitalise on last season’s impressive league campaign, in which Real rattled up with 121 goals and 100 points. With Ronaldo to the fore, Mourinho was ideally placed to smash Barcelona off their bohemian perch.
Dressing room mutinies and sullen press conferences are not what we have come to expect from him. Nor do we associate him with vacillation in the second half of games. At Chelsea and Inter Milan, Mourinho would bounce from the dugout, spot a problem, solve it, then add another victory to his pile. Against United in the first-leg of this tie he seemed to lack the old confidence and authority.
Mourinho, by the way, promises to be on his best behavior today; he promises no repeat of the infamous 2004 histrionics that Real Madrid’s manager has dragged around – something like the way Bobby Knight once dragged around the chair incident in our part of the world.
Some late updates, including the situation with first-choice Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas can be found here.