Photos: United to welcome Ronaldo while plotting goodbye
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo can expect a rousing Old Trafford welcome on Tuesday before his former Manchester United team mates use a newfound defensive solidity to try to make those the last Champions League cheers he hears this season.
The last-16 tie between the two European giants is balanced on a knife edge after last month's 1-1 draw in the first leg and with United holding the tiniest of advantages in the shape of an away goal this week's glamour match could be a tight affair.
United go into the game looking a lot more secure at the back than earlier this season with four successive league clean sheets coming at just the right time before being faced with the all-too-familiar talents of fan favourite Ronaldo.
Image: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid
Photographs: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
We're in a great position at the minute: Rooney
"Early on in the season we were conceding too many goals," United striker Wayne Rooney, who forged a lethal partnership with Ronaldo before the Portuguese left northwest England in 2009, told MUTV.
"We seemed to have coped with that, we're not conceding and we're scoring goals so we're in a great position at the minute. So, hopefully we can continue for Tuesday."
United warmed up with a 4-0 victory over Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday to go 15 points clear at the top of the table.
Image: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United tackles Robin Van Persie
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
'We have to make sure their counter-attack doesn't kill us'
The trouble for them is that Real are enjoying their own good run after two morale-boosting results against arch-rivals Barcelona last week, a 3-1 win in the King's Cup and 2-1 victory in La Liga.
United manager Alex Ferguson said his team's focus had been on trying to stifle Real's threat on the break.
"We know that Madrid are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe," he said. "That is what we will be up against on Tuesday and that is why our preparations are centred around making sure their counter-attack doesn't kill us."
Image: Sir Alex Ferguson jokes with Rio Ferdinand
Photographs: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
'We are going through a good streak'
Real's preparations for the big game have been taking place a stone's throw away from United's with Jose Mourinho's side using Manchester City's training facilities after arriving in England a day earlier than usual for a European game.
Mourinho, who enjoys sharing a bottle of wine with Ferguson, will be without goalkeeper Iker Casillas who has fractured his hand but otherwise has a full squad to chose from and one that is bursting with confidence.
"We are going through a good streak. We have shown that we are a group and we fight until the end," centre back Pepe said.
"We have got two important consecutive wins, both because of how we played and because of who they came against, which is a great motivation for the match against Manchester United.
"We are going into (the United game) at the best time."
Image: Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo controls the ball during a training session
Photographs: Juan Medina/Reuters
'Ronaldo will get a good reception'
Ferguson has no new injury concerns but has been presented with a selection headache after midfielder Shinji Kagawa presented a good case with his hat-trick against Norwich, while Ryan Giggs is on the verge of a 1,000th professional appearance.
Whoever he picks, he might have a moment of nostalgia when Ronaldo- who scored Real's equaliser in the first leg -- makes his first Old Trafford return.
"He'll get a good reception," Ferguson said on the club's website. "All our former players who come back, who have been great players, get a good reception.
"I've seen that all the time. I think, at the start of the game, he'll get that."
Manchester United: 1-David de Gea; 2-Rafael, 5-Rio Ferdinand, 6-Jonny Evans, 3-Patrice Evra; 16-Michael Carrick, 23-Tom Cleverley; 10-Wayne Rooney, 26-Shinji Kagawa, 19-Danny Welbeck; 20-Robin van Persie.
Real Madrid: 41-Diego Lopez; 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 3-Pepe, 4-Sergio Ramos, 5-Fabio Coentrao; 14-Xabi Alonso, 6-Sami Khedira; 22-Angel Di Maria, 10-Mesut Ozil, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo; 9-Karim Benzema.
Image: Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson (left) speaks to Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo
Photographs: Sergio Perez/Reuters