As the draw for this season's Champions League round of 16 was announced, one tie stood head and shoulders above the rest. Manchester United and Real Madrid, two of the biggest clubs in world football, with a dozen Champions League successes between them, are always among the favourites to win the title every passing year, but in 2012-13 only one will see the last eight.
The hype and anticipation around this round of 16 clash could not be greater, and for sure this is the match that is going to break all TRP records. According to reports around 200 millions viewers are set to watch this tie between the two European and football giants.
The latest meeting of between the two teams will see another round in the managerial battle between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, and the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo lining up against his former club, has everybody talking ahead of Wednesday's first leg. Outwitting Ferguson has never been so important for Mourinho. Before this tie the two managers have come head-to-head 14 times and only twice has the Man United manager managed to better his great friend far from the field.
Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to better his rival Jose Mourinho just twice in 14 head-to-head encounters.
The La Liga champions will most likely see their domestic title go to their arch rivals Barcelona this year. They are 16 points behind Los Blancos heading into the business end of the season and don't look like slowing down. The pressure is on Mourinho to deliver success in Europe and win Madrid the most glittering prize for the 10th time. Madrid qualified out of a group of champions in Group D (also known as the Group of Death) with victory over English champions Manchester City being key to their progression.
United are in good shape with 12 victories and two draws in the EPL in the last 14 matches and find themselves 12 points clear of City at the top of the table. Despite United holding a commanding lead, they have been particularly shaky defensively. But upfront, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez have scored goals for fun. United have been very strong in the European competition in recent history, making three of the past five finals, but playing Real will be a different ball game. The Spanish champions will be by far the toughest team that Ferguson's men will have played in the competition this year, but that certainly doesn't mean they can't win this one.
United have never won when playing away to Real Madrid. Their four Champions League encounters have produced two draws and two losses.
Real Madrid have kept zero clean sheets in the Champions League so far-conceding the most goals out of any team to have qualified for the knockout stages. United have scored the most goals this year in the EPL.
Mourinho has lost just two of his 14 meetings with Ferguson down the years.
The world is waiting, declared Mourinho, but when Real and United walk out at the Bernabeu, one man above all others will find himself the centre of attention. Six years, nine trophies with Manchester United, the multimillion dollar man will be facing his former employers. According to Gary Neville, the former Manchester United defender, his ability to zero in on the weak links in the defence and prey on their frailties makes him very dangerous.
"Ronaldo is a bully. He bullies the weakest defender. He does it all the time," Neville told the Sun. "He did it to Manchester City against Maicon. He will play on the left wing. If he can't get on the ball he will play centre-forward, midfield, right wing."
It makes him a difficult man to mark. Ronaldo is probably one of the few players in the world who has the freedom to roam all over the pitch and it means he can also draw others players out of formation and create gaps where there were none.
Phil Jones looks likely to be given the most daunting challenge of his United career: man-marking Ronaldo. Although this is not a new role for Jones, as Ferguson has employed the player as a man-marker on the likes of Gareth Bale and Marouane Fellaini in recent matches - a job that the 20-year-old has performed admirably. But marking Ronaldo will is a different proposition. Real Madrid work their entire attack through Ronaldo, so slowing him down or denying him the ball could force them to alter their strategy and this could work in United's favour.