What a night is in store. Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson v Jose Mourinho, Ryan Giggs’ 1,000th senior appearance, the tie level at 1-1: the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid could hardly be more fascinating.
In truth, it has been that way since the draw was made in December, but the match couldn’t be set up in a more exciting fashion, and as two clubs with 12 European Cups between them do battle, both will see this as a great opportunity to make it a lucky 13 for the pair.
With Barcelona out of sorts and trailing in their last-16 tie to AC Milan, the winner at Old Trafford on Tuesday will fancy their chances of going all the way to Wembley in May.
It has all the makings of a truly great European night, one that could go down in history alongside Madrid’s two previous visits – a Steve McManaman-inspired 3-0 dismantling of United’s treble winners in 2000 and a 4-3 away defeat in 2003 made famous by a brilliant hat-trick from Ronaldo.
No, not that one, the Brazilian one, although all eyes will be on Madrid’s newest Ronaldo as the Portuguese star returns to the ground where he became a world-class performer, winning three Premier League titles, a Champions League, an FA Cup and a League Cup, scoring 117 goals between 2003 and 2009 before his record £80 million move to the Spanish capital.
So while that, alongside Giggs’ astonishing milestone, will ensure emotions are running even higher than usual on the Stretford End, I have been toying with some emotions of my own about this match.
Ever since the draw was made, being the gambling man that I am, I have been waiting and waiting for this return leg, ready to empty my bank account (plus anything else I could get my hands on) and place it all on the 39/20 about a Manchester United win.
What other outcome could there possibly be? As United were busy increasing their gap at the top of the Premier League, swatting away all comers, Madrid, out of form and fighting among themselves, were lying third in La Liga and in turmoil having already lost four times on the road in the league in 2012/13.
At that stage, it was even doubtful that Mourinho would last this long as manager, such was the discontent with players and fans alike at how the season was panning out.
And yet…. just when you thought, especially on the back of an away goal and a fine result in the first leg, that United were in pole position, out of nowhere Real have found some form.
Mourinho’s boys have beaten Barcelona twice in the last week, once in the Copa del Rey at the Camp Nou (after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Madrid – take note, Sir Alex) and once at the Bernabeu in La Liga with a reserve team.
The latest victory over the Catalans on Saturday extended their run since the winter break to ten wins, four draws and one defeat, and it has tempered by enthusiasm for a home win here.
But I am going to stick with the courage of my convictions and say that 39/20 on a United win is the way to go, ahead of the 13/5 on the draw and the 5/4 on a Madrid victory.
It isn’t very often that you see a price as big as that chalked up against Manchester United’s name when they play at Old Trafford, and it just has to be taken.
New bwin customers can do exactly that using their free £20 bet and would pocket winnings of £59 if the Premier League leaders win over the 90 minutes.
You can argue about the relative quality of this Ferguson team compared to his older vintages, but the facts don’t lie: the Red Devils are still on course for a treble and have won 19 of their 21 games at Old Trafford this season, with their only defeats coming against Tottenham and when a much-changed side were beaten by Cluj in a Champions League dead rubber.
United have struck 51 goals in that sequence, only failing to find the net once (in the meaningless Cluj match), and there is no reason to think their shooting boots will desert them when they need them most.
And let’s be honest, when you have as much firepower as Ferguson’s side, you have a chance against anyone.
Besides, Madrid are just too short, even given their upturn in form. A price of 5/4 is not going to tempt me, especially when this is a team that has been flaky on the road all season.
Madrid have lost eight times already on their travels, as well as drawing four of their 21 away games in all competitions, and no matter how talented a side is, a record of just nine wins in 21 away games is not one you want to be taking to Old Trafford on such an important night.
Mourinho’s side have conceded two or more on the road seven times this year, and with just four clean sheets in those 21 games, I don’t see how they can keep free-scoring United out.
With four clean sheets in the last six, United have tightened up considerably and I keep going back to my initial thought when I saw the prices: 39/20 about a Manchester United win at Old Trafford is too big, no matter who the opposition.
A chance to back Ferguson’s side at these type of odds doesn’t come along very often, and his team, pushed on by a vociferous crowd, are good enough to ensure it pays off.