Published December 20, 2012
| Sports Network
Skillful. Driven. Competitive. Technical. Determined.
These are just some of the adjectives most-often used to describe Manchester United.
Some, though, may assert that the word 'lucky' most-aptly characterizes the fabled English club.
Lucky to score so many late goals. Lucky to receive so much second-half stoppage time on a regular basis. Lucky to have a constant coaching figure at the helm in Sir Alex Ferguson.
Lucky to be drawn in with the likes of Galatasaray, CRF Cluj and Braga in the Champions League group stage this season.
Well, that perceived 'luck' ran out on Thursday when UEFA revealed the match- ups for the Round of 16 of the competition. The Red Devils earned the toughest opponent available: Spanish champions Real Madrid.
United, highly motivated after crashing out of last season's Champions League during the group stage, breezed through group play this term, clinching top spot in Group H through four games.
With Galatasaray finishing as runners-up, United could have been paired with Madrid, AC Milan, Celtic, FC Porto, Shahktar Donetsk or Valencia (two clubs from the same country cannot be drawn with one another, leaving Arsenal outside the realm of possibilities).
Rumor has it that United was paired with Madrid during the rehearsal draw on Wednesday, and wouldn't you know, the same result transpired the following day.
Speculation of another world football conspiracy involving a governing body aside, it is safe to say that the draw could not have gone any worse for United, no matter how intriguing the two-legged affair is and how entertaining it turns out to be.
There are a plethora of appetizing storylines surrounding the tie, including Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford for the first time since swapping Manchester for Madrid in 2009 and Jose Mourinho trying to continue to one-up Ferguson.
"Well, it's the tie of the round," Ferguson told United's official website. "It's a great opportunity for our fans to see Cristiano again and also for me to meet up with Jose again - I'll need to order some good wine!"
Granted, the draw is fascinating from a spectator's point of view. But players from both sides must be looking to the football gods and wondering, "Why them? Why now?"
The adage of "To be the best, you must beat the best" certainly applies in this situation.
Manchester United was certain to face a club of Madrid's quality at some point in the competition. But the fact that moment has come in the Round of 16 as opposed to the final, semifinals or even quarterfinals is somewhat debilitating.
There is no doubt that the Red Devils have the capability win the series, but it has to make the club uneasy to face such stern opposition at this stage of the competition. Even if they were to advance at Madrid's expense, they are likely to expend a great deal of energy doing so that they may not have a lot left in the tank for the subsequent stages.
Last year, United underperformed in the Champions League and was ousted prematurely, but justly.
Should the club exit the competition in the Round of 16 this season, it would be disappointing, but it could not be classified as premature given the quality of their opponent.
Real is a class side from top to bottom, and with Madrid being a cut above the other potential opponents United could have faced, being drawn against such a team so early is just plain unlucky.