Manchester United are preparing for an epic showdown with Real Madrid in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
The tie has all the ingredients to be a classic, with Sir Alex Ferguson against Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo facing former club United and the Premier League versus La Liga. It is The Perfect Match.
Michael Carrick, who it is easy to forget is a veteran of three Champions League finals (2008, 2009 & 2011) - winning the first, will be a key player for United when attempting to stem Real's midfield attacking threats and he will have to use all of his experience.
Ahead of Wednesday's headline first leg at the Bernabeu, the England international speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about his club's winning mentality, the glamour of the European Cup, a showdown with Real's stars and a reunion with Ronaldo.
What does the Champions League mean to you? Is it the greatest football tournament in the world?
Every player looks to the Champions League for the ultimate test. It is the biggest club competition in the world. There are no easy games and you have got to concentrate until the final whistle blows. As a player, you always want to play the best and facing the likes of Real Madrid is what the Champions League is all about.
How much are you looking forward to taking on Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League?
When the draw was announced, understandably, everyone focused on our tie. It is the tie that will generate all of the media attention, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing against us for the first time since his departure. As far as we are concerned, though, we will approach the game like we would any other fixture. From a personal point of view, you always want to play against the best teams in the best stadiums and Real Madrid and the Bernabeu certainly fall into that bracket.
Who are the danger men you will have to beware when playing against Real Madrid in the last 16 and why?
The headlines will all focus on Cristiano but Real Madrid have real strength in depth. They did not win La Liga for nothing last season. I am looking forward to playing against Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, who are both world-class players. We respect the players and history of the club but we are approaching both legs with a squad full of confidence.
How far can Manchester United go in the Champions League this season?
From the gaffer, to the players, to the backroom staff at United, we go into every competition aiming to win it. It is in the DNA of the club. We have won it three times, finished runners up twice and made it to three of the last five finals. That sort of record creates expectation. But, as a player, you thrive off it. If you want to win the Champions League, you need to play at your best to beat the likes of Real Madrid.
How does the mentality of a club change from the group stages to the knockout rounds?
At Manchester United, we approach every game the same. Whether it be the Capital One Cup or the last 16 of the Champions League, we want to win every game. We will prepare for this fixture like any other and know that with any knockout fixture, you need 100 per cent concentration and sometimes a bit of luck.
How do you address a two-legged tie? Is avoiding defeat vital in the first leg?
We were happy with the away fixture for the first leg. Looking at the goalscoring options in our team, scoring an away goal is extremely important. With the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Chicharito (Javier Hernandez), we have got players who know how to find the back of the net and, in the crucial first leg, that will be very important.
|Champions League 12/13||Michael Carrick|
|Minutes On Pitch||270|
|Pass Completion %||95%|
|Tackles Won %||75%|
How special would it be to play in the final at Wembley again after 2011?
To play in any Champions League final is special but to play at Wembley and in your own country is extra special. I have played in three Champions League finals and it is the pinnacle for every club player. To be honest, though, we have not even thought about the final. We have got two very difficult games against Real Madrid to overcome first.
Who are the clubs to watch in this season's Champions League last 16 and why?
All 16 clubs are at this stage because they have earned it, so you cannot discount anyone. Obviously, Barcelona have been the team to beat in recent years. But there have been some real surprises so far with Celtic's memorable victory over Barcelona in the group stages.
What is the key to balancing European form with domestic form?
Rotation. It is not the 11 men on the pitch who win trophies, it is the whole squad. The gaffer knows the importance of when to rest and play players. Every player wants to play in the big games but every player at United understands the importance of the squad.
Who is the toughest opponent you have faced in the Champions League and why?
I have been lucky enough to play against some fantastic players but would not like to single out any specific player. Everyone knows about Barcelona's ability in midfield and Real's attacking force but we are confident we have the squad to challenge for the big trophies.
What is your favourite memory or moment from Champions League history and why?
Winning the 2008 Champions League final was obviously a dream for every footballer. Scoring my first Champions League goals against Roma in 2007 was pretty memorable, too. It was my first season at Manchester United and to be able to contribute those goals and be part of such a big win (7-1), was really exciting for me. Although I did not play in it, everyone remembers the 1999 final against Bayern Munich. It is a game that will go down in the history books.
What will be the outcome in the match Real Madrid vs Man Utd?