Proceed with caution

"At this stage, the tactical battle isn't so much about devising a plan to beat the opponent but making sure you don't lose."

- Nick Coppack,

12/02/2013 08:35, Report by Nick Coppack
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Blog: Great expectations

Jose Mourinho was spot on when, on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, he told MUTV "the world is waiting" for Wednesday night's match in Madrid.

And why wouldn't it be? All the ingredients are there to produce the sort of mouth-watering contest we'll still be talking about long after Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo have hung up their goalscoring boots: two of Europe's most successful football clubs, two of the most respected and successful managers of the modern era, perhaps 10 of the world's top 50 players and one majestic theatre – the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu – in which all the action will unfold.

But football is unpredictable. After all, lower-league teams can beat top-flight sides in cup competitions, seasoned internationals can score bizarre own goals... and, yes, great games can be great disappointments.

I've flown to Barcelona, paid €100 for a ticket to an El Clasico and sat in the rain for 83 minutes before I saw the net bulge. And what of the last World Cup final? A turgid affair on the grandest stage.

There's certainly a danger of getting caught up in all the hype surrounding Wednesday's match. We'd do well to remember that it's just the first leg of a larger contest and both teams – but particularly Manchester United – are likely to feel each other out until at least half-time. Expect probing and prodding rather than all-out assault. What matters most to the teams is the end result, not how they get there.

With that in mind, there's a good chance familiarity will stifle creativity. There's nothing Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho doesn't know about the other manager's side and neither will want his adversary coming out on top.

Sir Alex has revealed he watches Madrid every week and Mourinho does the same with United (what's more, he tunes in to MUTV's The Paddy Crerand Show every Monday!). The Portuguese even made the trip to Manchester last Sunday for the Reds' clash with Everton, fully expecting Sir Alex to put out a side unlikely to resemble anything we'll see at the Bernabeu.

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