Manchester United will allow Madrid possession, thinks Santillana

The former Spain international feels the Blancos have what it takes to beat United if they put in a similar display as against Barca

Former Real Madrid star Santillana says Madrid will dominate possession against Manchester United in their second leg Champions League round of 16 tie, and thinks los Blancos can cause them problems if they can put in a similar performance to the one which beat Barcelona.

The Santiago Bernabeu side were held to a 1-1 draw by United in the first leg, but Santillana remains optimistic about their chances of making it to the next round.

“United don’t like having the ball too much, they will probably allow Madrid to dominate possession and play a similar game to the one they played at the Bernabeu,” Santillana told Efe.

“The approach used against Barca will suit us perfectly against United. If Madrid can exert the same pressure  as they did against Barca, Man United will find it very difficult to build moves from the back.

“And for the speed with which Madrid have on the break, a plan like that would function well, I think. We will be up against more difficulties, though, because they won’t let us hit them on the break like Barca do.”

The return at Old Trafford is scheduled to take place on March 5.

Real Madrid-Barcelona Betting Preview: Why a low scoring Clasico looks on the cards

Our Spanish expert Phil Kitromilides believes backing under 2.5 goals is the best bet given that Saturday’s Clasico is likely to be a less intense affair than usual

Have you had Clasico overload yet? Does the thought of a sixth meeting between Real Madrid and Barcelona this season fill you with ambivalence? Then try new Clasico Lite, just like a regular Clasico without any of the normal fire, spark and intensity.

Although every encounter between these two eternal rivals carries at least a modicum of significance, Saturday’s game at the Santiago Bernabeu could be one of the most meaningless in recent memory.

With Madrid 16 points behind Barcelona in the league, Los Blancos will be fully focused instead on Tuesday’s monstrous Mancunian meeting at Old Trafford which will decide their Champions League fate. 

Having already beaten Barcelona once this week in the Copa del Rey semi final, there is little wonder that here in Spain, the press are referring to Saturday’s game as a “de-caffinated Clasico”.

This should not deter punters from investing in the match though, because despite it likely being a more sedate affair than previous meetings, there is still surely profit to be made.

Bet365 price Barcelona as the favourites at 11/8 (2.37) while Real Madrid, who have not lost a league game at the Bernabeu since December 2011 are offered at 15/8 (2.37). The draw can be backed at 5/2 (3.50).

The debates raging on the radio phone-ins across the Spanish capital this week have centred on whether Jose Mourinho should field a weakened side for the visit of Barca, given his side’s European commitments just three days later.

Some of the more left-field suggestions have included fielding Real Madrid’s B team and resting every first choice player, and although Mourinho is unlikely to do this, we could well see some squad players getting a game.

This being Madrid of course squad players mean the likes of Kaka, Luka Modric and Michael Essien footballers of undoubted quality so while it may seem “weakened”, whichever XI takes to the field for the hosts should be able to compete adequately.

Nevertheless, expect this Clasico to be a little less frenetic than others, and the price of 27/20 (2.35) for under 2.5 goals looks tempting.

In their meeting on Tuesday night Barca lacked incisiveness in front of goal, while Madrid are unlikely to start with the same side that was so devastating on the counter-attack.

This bet paid out the last time the two teams met at the Bernabeu a month ago, and has also paid out in three of Madrid’s last four home games as well as three of Barca’s previous four away matches.

For a value bet, back a goal-less first half which is offered at 5/2 (3.50).

Sign up with Bet365 for up to £200 in free bets and back Phil’s selections for this match

Phil Kitromilides is a sports anchor working on TV in Madrid. You can also follow Phil on Twitter.

Casillas resumes ball training

The Spain international’s recovery from a hand injury is going according to schedule as he has returned to the training pitch

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has received some encouraging news from the treatment table as Iker Casillas is one step closer to making his comeback having resumed ball training.

The experienced goalkeeper fractured a bone in his left hand on January 23 during the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Valencia, and has since been out of action.

Nevertheless, Casillas is on his way back as Madrid have announced the 31-year-old has made the next step in his recovery process.

“The Real Madrid captain went out onto pitch 1 at Real Madrid’s Football City on Thursday and completed a run and some ball exercises with rehabilitation physio, Carlos Lalin,” a statement on the club’s official website reads.

“In the rain, Casillas completed a day of training that started very early with specific rehabilitation exercises for his left hand.”

Casillas has made 19 La Liga appearances so far this term, keeping eight clean sheets.

Bale: I don’t model my game on Real Madrid star Ronaldo

The Tottenham winger’s recent string of match-winning performances have led to comparisons with the Portuguese attacker, but the 23-year-old insists he is his own man

Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has dismissed suggestions that he models his game on Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Wales international has been in the form of his life this season, scoring 15 goals in 23 appearances to help Spurs up to third in the Premier League.

But, whilst the 23-year-old admits it is “flattering” that his performances have led to comparisons with former Manchester United wideman Ronaldo, he insists he is not attempting to emulate the Portuguese.

“I think anybody would love to be mentioned alongside the best in the world,” Bale told Sport magazine.

“It’s flattering, but I don’t really look too much into it. I don’t get the newspapers or read too many reports, so I don’t really know how much hype there is. Obviously my friends tell me things, but I just treat every day as normal and focus on my job.

“I don’t model my game on Ronaldo’s. I have my own way of playing and it’s not exactly the same but we do have similar attributes.

“I just like watching the best players: seeing Messi and Ronaldo. I’ve watched Ronaldo in the past and you do take things from other people’s games to try to improve as a player, which I have – hopefully.”

Bale went on to underline the importance of the tactical tweaks he has made to his game under the guidance of Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas.

“Harry was more ‘go out there and play how you feel and express yourself’. With Andre, there’s a certain shape and a style we play,” he added.

“I think Harry was more free and let you do what you want. Andre does that too, but there’s a lot more tactical work. I think it’s something that’s good to learn. We’ve done well this year and I think that’s down to our defending as well as attacking.”

Van Persie passed fit for Real Madrid but Jones remains doubtful

The 71-year-old revealed the forward has trained during the week and made a swift recovery, while he has reminded his players not to lose focus for their league clash with Norwich

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Robin van Persie will be fit for Tuesday’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid, however the manager admitted the clash may come too soon for Phil Jones.

The Dutch forward sustained a hip injury during the Premier League match with QPR last time out but, as exclusively revealed by, the Red Devils were confident the ex-Arsenal man would recover in time for the last-16 second-leg.

And the 71-year-old has indeed assured fans that, despite initial fears, the striker will be available for both visits of Norwich on Saturday and then Jose Mourinho’s side on Tuesday.

The Scot told reporters: “Robin van Persie has trained this week – he’s available for tomorrow [Norwich]. His hip was very tender but he’s okay now.”

The United boss was less optimistic about Jones’ chances of making the crucial European fixture, suggesting he is unlikely to make the game, but did rule him out of the match with the Canaries at Old Trafford.

“Phil Jones starts running today,” he continued. “He’s got a fight on his hands to be ready for Tuesday [Real Madrid] but we’ll give him every chance. He won’t be available for tomorrow [Norwich].”

The current Premier League leaders go into the game with Chris Hughton’s men a massive 12 points ahead of Manchester City in the title race.

Looking ahead to the match, Sir Alex warned his players not to get complacent and insisted that they cannot afford to be distracted by the “occasion” surrounding the return leg with Madrid’s.

“Tomorrow is an important one because Tuesday will look after itself,” he added. “It’s an occasion on Tuesday whereas tomorrow is the mundane practical situation in that we need to win.”

Meanwhile Ryan Giggs has been rewarded for his continual good form with a new one-year contract at the club, a deal that will see him play in his 23rd senior season at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex hailed the attacker’s achievement’s and indicated he will hand him his 1000th career appearance, including matches for Wales and Great Britain, in the very near future.

He said: “He’ll be involved [against Norwich] and will be involved on Tuesday [against Real Madrid]. I don’t think what he has achieved will ever be achieved by anyone again.”