BY DAN KARELL
Cristiano Ronaldo makes his long awaited return to the Theater of Dreams, Old Trafford, when Manchester United host Real Madrid today in the second leg of the round-of-16 in the UEFA Champions League. The two sides drew 1-1 in the first leg in Madrid.
The Portuguese winger famously starred at United for six seasons, before continuing his goal-scoring exploits in the Madrid capital. Jose Mourinho’s side could not have more confidence than this very moment, after two resounding victories over Barcelona, first in the Copa Del Rey, and next, in La Liga.
Manchester United’s form has been impeccable throughout the season, suffering just three losses, and having won five in a row in the Premier League. Celebrations will be on the mind of some in the Old Trafford terraces, with midfielder Ryan Giggs ready to mark his one thousandth senior appearance for club and country.
United have a variety of riches across the pitch, and Sir Alex Ferguson could have a selection dilemma for the match, with midfielder Shinji Kagawa scoring a hat-trick in last Saturday’s win over Norwich City.
While all eyes will be focused on Manchester, an equally intriguing matchup is taking place in Germany, with Borussia Dortmund leading the line at Signal Iduna Park against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
Last season’s German double winners needed a late equalizer from Mats Hummels to tie 2-2 in Donetsk in the first leg, but they could be without the German international for the all-important match. Hummels has missed Dortmund’s last two matches due to illness, and will be a game-time decision, whether he is included in the lineup or not.
Shakhtar meanwhile will rely on their large Brazilian contingent to get a goal, and escape with a win. Borussia has the advantage on away goals, so nothing less than a victory or three-all or more draw will get Shakhtar through to the quarterfinals.
The Ukrainian side sold Willian, arguably their best player, on the last day of the transfer window to Russian club Anzi Makhachkala. They’ll be hoping that the club’s fitness levels, having just resumed their domestic season, can hold up to the mid-season form of the German club at their home.
Here is a closer look at today’s Round of 16 Champions League matches:
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. REAL MADRID
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch:MANCHESTER UNITED- Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferndinand; REAL MADRID- Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Xabi Alonso;
Quick Kicks: Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas traveled with the squad to Manchester, but manager Jose Mourinho has stated that the Spain and Madrid captain is still unavailable. Sir Alex Ferguson has also announced that Phil Jones is still out with injury, so Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans will likely partner together in defense for the home side. United will like their chances at home, with only two defeats this season at Old Trafford, and one of them coming with an uncompetitive side in the final match-day of the Champions League group stage.
BORUSSIA DORTMUND vs. SHAKHTAR DONETSK
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Plus 5:00pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch: BORUSSIA DORTMUND- Robert Lewandowski, Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Mats Hummels; SHAKHTAR DONETSK- Luiz Adriano, Darijo Srna, Alex Teixeira, Fernandinho.
Quick Kicks: Borussia Dortmund welcome back Mario Goetze and Lukasz Piszczek to the lineup after resting them for Saturday’s match against Hannover. If Hummels is unable to go, Brazilian defender Felipe Santana will likely pair up with Neven Subotic in central defense. Shakhtar will have their full squad available, and even goal a goal from former Arsenal man Eduardo in the 90th minute of their 4-1 win on Friday. Despite Borussia’s away-goals advantage, Shakhtar has won their last two matches in Germany, and famously beat Werder Bremen in the 2009 UEFA Cup Final.
What do you think of today’s matches? Do you see Real Madrid winning on the road? Do you think Dortmund can win without Mats Hummels in the lineup?
Share your thoughts below.