Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has claimed that the "world will stop" to watch Manchester United's Champions League last 16 second leg game against his side tonight and proclaimed that his team would have to "attack and be bold" with the advantage in their opponents' favour.
he 50-year-old said that Madrid, who arrived in Manchester on Sunday night, were in such a state of readiness that they could have played the match last night, having won two consecutive games in cup and league against Barcelona.
Earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson said that United would not be preoccupied with the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo in case they "forget some of the things we can do ourselves".
One of the most eagerly awaited Champions League ties in recent years is delicately poised at 1-1 from the first leg, with both sides relatively free of injury problems. United will be without Phil Jones, who failed to recover from an ankle injury he suffered two weeks ago, and Mourinho confirmed last night that his goalkeeper Iker Casillas has not been passed fit for selection.
There is a range of attacking options at Ferguson's disposal to the extent that there are even doubts about Wayne Rooney's place in the side. The 27-year-old started against Norwich City on Saturday and scored, although the tendency is for Ferguson to make his mind up on selections well in advance of big games. The United manager claimed yesterday that he would make a final decision on his team this morning.
Mourinho was in a relatively subdued mood at his press conference at Old Trafford today but he captured the level of interest in the game when he said that it was two big clubs in a run of good form facing each other in a game that felt like a final. Asked what might be the decisive factor in the match, he initially said he had "no idea".
"That is the one million dollar question: what will make the difference? Nobody knows and the world will stop to watch this tie. It doesn't look a tie. It looks a final. I doubt the expectation can be bigger than this.
"They [United] are in a fantastic run, better than ever. They are in the FA Cup quarter-final, they are winning the Premier League already in March and haven't lost a match in months. We are also in good form in 2013, 15 matches with one defeat is quite a good one."
Ferguson said that the stage was set for a game on a par with the 4-3 win for United against Madrid 10 years ago, which ended in United's elimination, 6-5 on aggregate.
"As European nights go you don't get much bigger," he said. "We're talking about two clubs with great history. It's set up to be potentially a marvellous game and I don't think it will disappoint either."
Ferguson agreed that United's defensive approach would be crucial. "That will probably be the key to the game. I believe they are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe. That showed itself last week at the Nou Camp [in the first of the two wins over Barcelona].
"They were absolutely stunning on the counter-attack so we have to find a way of coping with that but also having our own threat in an attacking sense."
On Saturday it will be nine years to the day since Mourinho's Porto scored a last-minute equaliser to eliminate United at the same stage of the competition on their way to winning the Champions League. Mourinho said that in the event of victory tonight he would curb the instinct that saw him slide on his knees on the Old Trafford touchline.
"It [the game] means the same. I live the situation with a different approach, with different emotions. To win a big match is the same now, the same nine years ago.
"To lose is the same but the approach is completely different. That match was my first season playing Champions League football. Now I have more than 100 matches and I think I can control my emotions a different way. If I lose, I don't cry and if I win I don't run 100 metres. But in the end is the same."
Ronaldo's team-mate Xabi Alonso said that the former United man's first return to Old Trafford would not affect his performance.
"I don't think so. He is looking forward. Before the game, I think he will have a great reception but once the game kicks off, he will just be thinking about doing the best for our team. Hopefully, it will be a great night for him."
The Perfect Match
By Peter Strain on Vimeo.
A short film based on the first leg of the 2013 Champions League game between Real Madrid and Manchester United. A match the media hyped up pre game as "The Perfect Match". The film is made up of nearly 1000 hand drawn frames.
Illustration and Animation - Peter Strain
Music - Mark Todd