Sir Alex Ferguson expects Wednesday's Champions League clash at the Bernabeu to descend into ‘chaos’ as his Manchester United side go for goals against Real Madrid.
The eve of a contest that Ferguson claimed would be worthy of this season’s Wembley final was dominated by the rival managers, with Jose Mourinho choosing his official press conference to declare that he would soon be returning to English football.
Ferguson, however, was focused more on tonight’s much-anticipated last-16 encounter.
Lasting the full 90: Jose Mourinho joked that Sir Alex Ferguson will carry on managing until he is 90
Still got it: Ferguson shows off his ball skills at Manchester United's training ground on Tuesday
Anticipation: Mourinho addresses the media with Michael Essien on the eve of the Champions League tie
Coming back? Mourinho left the door open for a return to England before leaving the press conference
Familiar: Midfielder Essien, who worked with Mourinho at Chelsea, joined his manager at the press conference
‘There will be goals,’ he promised. ‘They are a great counter-attacking team, but we have to play our own game and attack, and that can cause some chaos and late drama in our games. It won’t finish 0-0, I can assure you of that,’ added Ferguson, who confirmed that Robin van Persie was now his first-choice striker. ‘But we have to balance that with the responsibility not to leave the door open.’
A goalless draw would leave United vulnerable on the away goals rule when they play the second leg at Old Trafford on March 5.
While Ferguson agreed that Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘the one I worry about’, he said he intended to come up with a plan that would ‘annoy’ his close friend Mourinho.
Laugh it off: The Portuguese manager played down suggestions that Madrid are in crisis
‘It’s unfortunate to be meeting so early,’ the Scot added. ‘I would have preferred it at Wembley in the final, obviously. I am trying to guess what surprise Jose could pull, but I am thinking of something to annoy him.’
Ferguson said Ronaldo was now at ‘the peak of his career’ before stating that ‘he can improve again over the next three years’.
But he takes confidence from the threat Van Persie can pose to Madrid. ‘Van Persie is my No 1 choice,’ he said. ‘His contribution is there to be seen.’
Mourinho’s meeting with the media was more tense, particularly when it came to discussions about his future after a series of high-profile disputes.
Increasingly, a return to Chelsea is looking like his preferred option.
Struggling: Reigning Spanish champions Madrid are 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga
Mammoth: Mourinho previously claimed the world is waiting to see Wednesday's tie
Star: Cristiano Ronaldo is preparing to face his former side
Looking distracted: Something caught Mourinho's eye as he took charge of a training session
While the manager who was at Stamford Bridge from 2004-2007 dismissed talk of succeeding Ferguson at United, he made it clear he was keen to end what has been a difficult time at the Bernabeu.
Last night it emerged that Mourinho had switched from Real’s traditional team hotel in Madrid because of suspicions that staff there were leaking sensitive team news to the media. ‘When I leave Real Madrid I will return to England. I love everything about England,’ he said.
‘I don’t think I can manage United because Sir Alex will still be managing them when he is 90 and I will be 70 — and I won’t be managing when I am 70.’
Home comfort: Manchester United players train at their Carrington base on Tuesday
Influential: Leading scorer Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in training
Meanwhile Barcelona will run the rule over David de Gea at the Bernabeu tonight. The United goalkeeper has emerged as a possible successor to Victor Valdes, who could leave the Nou Camp in the summer.
De Gea’s future at United at is under scrutiny after a number of high-profile errors since his arrival last season. But Ferguson, who is eyeing Stoke’s Asmir Begovic as a possible replacement, has not given up hope of De Gea becoming a long-term success at the club.
There are fears De Gea’s slim frame will continue to be an obstacle in his attempts to adapt to the physical nature of English football and the 22-year-old has been put on specifically tailored gym programme to help him bulk up.
Having fun? Ferguson seemed relaxed, and cold, during training
Important: United will need their prolific striker Van Persie to be at his best if they are to progress