Neither Ferguson or Mourinho would have been smiling when this match came out of the hat because it would even be a fitting final, let alone a last 16 contest. United and Real Madrid are both far from the finished product which means the battle between the managers could prove decisive in terms of how the ties go.
Expect to see Fergie at his shrewd best during the first leg away in Madrid. He will set United up as very difficult to break down and will be hoping to steal a goal on the counter attack. The side will be forced to soak up a lot of pressure but they can take great heart from the way Manchester City bagged a couple of goals in their group game against Real.
Fergie doesn’t change his methods too much and he will only change his rigid and tested system if the side starts to get battered all over the pitch and are two or three down by half-time which is unlikely. He always backs his United team to overturn any deficit at Old Trafford so the main point for United during the first leg is survival. Anyone expecting to see anything different will be disappointed.
Mourinho is very clever tactically but the aggressive way that he likes his teams to play always means that they will give the opposition a few chances to score over 90 minutes. He has managed in England so he will know how difficult it will be for his team to force a result away at Old Trafford on a European night.
He is likely to set Madrid up with a very wide, expansive and attacking look during the first leg. They are at their best when they have decent attacking options all over the pitch and this is something he has pulled off before. He will encourage his team to try and kill the game off as quickly as possibly and try to give themselves a decent cushion.
The danger with Real Madrid is that they sometimes slip a little too high up the pitch and United have the players who can exploit the space left in the defensive areas. The Madrid defence will be questioned by the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney so Mourinho will ensure the space between his defenders and between the defence and the midfield is not massive.
In the tie at Old Trafford the roles are almost going to be switched with United finding it easier to attack and Real Madrid likely to be on the back foot. However, Real Madrid have more pace than United in terms of counter attacking football so if United will still slightly be on the defensive and if they are going to win this tie, don’t expect it to be by a huge margin.
It’s a battle between two very gifted managers who use tactics and a system they both know to work. It’s up to the players to do the rest.