Ryan Giggs could make his 1,000th appearance against Real Madrid. - Michael Regan
For the most part, we know what to expect from Real Madrid in regards to their starting XI for Tuesday night's Champions League clash. For Manchester United, though, there are many unknowns.
In the past few days, Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted as to who might start on Tuesday during the monstrous Champions League tie against Real Madrid. Quite obviously, though, the Manchester United manager will be mostly coy in these matters as he'll certainly want to keep his counterpart -- Jose Mourinho -- guessing about selection choices and tactics. Nonetheless, the United gaffer made it clear on Friday during a press conference that he wants Rio Ferdinand involved:
"Two weeks ago, against Real Madrid, [Ferdinand] was excellent. We need to get him ready for the big one on Tuesday."
- Ferguson | Source: ManUtd.com
According to some reports, Ferdinand was unavailable for Saturday's tie against Norwich City because he's been battling the flu. The former United and England captain wouldn't have started anyway had he been sick or not. Because of the squad's depth in central-defense, Ferguson wouldn't have been risked the 34-year-old twice in a four-day span. There are similar health considerations for Nemanja Vidic so if Ferdinand is fit for Tuesday, then the latter likely starts against Madrid alongside Jonny Evans. It is amongst these three defenders whom Ferguson will likely choose from in central-defense with Chris Smalling having an outside shot for consideration. Rafael is certain to start at right-back, Patrice Evra at left-back, and David de Gea in goal.
Higher up the pitch in attack, Robin van Persie will be the lead striker. After the match against the Canaries, Ferguson had this to say about the influential No.9:
"We agreed Robin would get an hour [against Norwich]."
Basically, the gaffer is stating that he wanted to preserve the Dutchman for Tuesday so the plan was never to have him last longer than an hour on Saturday. Ryan Giggs is apparently another player that could feature in attack:
"Ryan will be involved on Tuesday. We couldn’t miss that moment [1,000 senior games] for the lad. He deserves it."
That doesn't necessarily mean the 39-year-old legend will start though. He could, of course, but the Welshman might be used off the bench either to keep things calm if United are trying to see out a result on Tuesday or he could be brought on to provide an attacking spark if a goal is needed. In addition, there's always the possibility of extra-time if a 1-1 scoreline results after 90 minutes. Giggs would be a vital asset if the tie happened to go to penalties because of his abilities from the spot.
In the front six, Michael Carrick seems like the only other certain starter besides van Persie. Wayne Rooney is very likely too though. Because Wazza has missed some games recently due to illness, and because he typically requires a lot of minutes to stay fit and in form, that's probably why Ferguson used him for the full 90 minutes against Norwich. The England international could feature as a No.10 in support of van Persie or he could be used out wide as he was in the reverse fixture.
With Phil Jones' availability being questionable, that likely means that Tom Cleverley starts in midfield alongside Carrick. The Englishman is fresh after only being used as a substitute against Norwich and his competition for a starting role -- Anderson, who started against the Canaries -- likely isn't fit enough to start two games in four days. Giggs is also possible in a central-midfield role.
Out wide in attack, either Nani or Antonio Valencia is most likely to be chosen on the right. The former has been in good form in recent weeks and is fresh after being unused on Saturday. The Ecuadorian, though, may be considered because of his defensive abilities as a winger -- this is something hugely important because this is the flank the dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo tends to roam near the most.
Rooney was deployed in the right-sided role at the Bernabeu but he was ineffective defensively. There were clear communication issues between the Englishman and right-back Rafael during the reverse fixture. The latter was seen yelling at his right-sided partner early in the match for more help while the former went straight to the coaching staff near the touchline after United's opening goal with his arms out wide signaling that he and the Brazilian weren't compact enough.
On the left, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, Nani, Rooney, and Giggs are all in contention. Welbeck was arguably United's brightest outfield player at the Bernabeu in this role as his pace gave Madrid right-back Alvaro Arbeola fits when passes were played into space. This became a valuable outlet to relieve pressure. Young is also an interesting option because he's been vital on the counterattack in some big games this season and he's also defensively responsible. Kagawa thrived in a nominal left-sided playmaking role against Norwich so his hat-trick probably has him in consideration for a spot on the left or as a No.10 in behind van Persie.
All of this, of course, is in consideration with the assumption that Ferguson will deploy his side in the typical 4-4-1-1ish shape. A diamond midfield is possible in order to clog up the middle as is a 4-3-3/4-5-1ish system. The former system was used somewhat often a few months ago while the latter used to be the gaffer's go-to shape in difficult European ties. Madrid's wide attackers -- Ronaldo and Angel di Maria both tend to cut inside near the penalty area -- so these could be functional defensive shapes for United.
The closest thing to a certainty, though, is that Ferguson is likely to spring a few surprises. This discussion is perhaps just the basics to consider when thinking about selection choices for Tuesday's highly-anticipated European night at Old Trafford.