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Sergio Ramos has looked suspect at the back for Real Madrid. Brendon Netto discusses why and how United could look to target the Spanish international..

 Brendon Netto
 Comment | Europe
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Manchester United entertain Real Madrid at Old Trafford tonight in the second leg of their evenly poised Champions League tie. In arguably the most glamourous fixture of the round, the encounter promises to feature a fascinating battle of wits between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. Both managers are notoriously meticulous in their preparations and will be scrutinizing every detail with respect to each other’s teams in an attempt to identify areas in which their own can capitalize. From the United boss’ point of view, Sergio Ramos may just be the weak-link in this Madrid side he’s been looking for.

On the surface, this may seem like a pretty harsh and unwarranted criticism towards Madrid’s stand-in captain and match winner in their latest El Clasico. However, for those who ignore the headlines and pay attention to the details, the fact that Ramos’ indecisive defending could have cost them the game is one that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Ramos grabbed the winner against Barcelona

Yes, he rose magnificently to guide a majestic header past Victor Valdes late in the game and the goal was a timely reminder of his phenomenal physical attributes and technical skills which are the makings of the ideal modern day central defender. However, he is also renowned for his lapses in concentration and rash challenges, two of his most notable flaws which he dutifully demonstrated during the same game in which he was proclaimed a hero for grabbing the winner.

In the first half, he switched off to allow Lionel Messi to run in behind him while he was caught on his heels, ball-watching. His pace, one of his prime physical attributes that bails him out on numerous occasions, enabled him to recover and catch up with the diminutive forward but then he committed the cardinal sin of allowing the four-time Ballon d’Or winner onto his lethal left-foot which aided him in creating an angle for a shot which he inevitably drilled past a hapless Diego Lopez.

The Spaniard could be forgiven for failing to track Messi’s run initially because it was in all fairness a quick darting run made on his blindside but having gotten back into position, he should have been able to defend the danger. The Argentine had little to no support in attack and an intelligent defender would have had the presence of mind to shepherd him towards the by-line and onto his weaker foot but Ramos did the exact opposite.

Naivety in 'defending' Messi's equalizer

Following his goal, Ramos nearly undid all his good work when he appeared to trip Adriano in his penalty area in the dying moments. The defender unnecessarily and quite lazily stuck out his left foot which appeared to catch the Barcelona player. Fortunately for Madrid, a penalty wasn’t awarded and they went on to secure all three points.

The Spain international has already been sent off twice this year and it’s no surprise that he holds the club record for the most red cards despite being only 26 years old. It’s that sort of cavalier defending that could hurt his team when they face United. The slightest error can be ruthlessly punished in a game of such intensity where the stakes are so high.

Not only will Sir Alex be aware of Ramos’ vulnerability but he will also be certain that he has the perfect weapon to take full advantage of it in Robin van Persie. The Dutchman is notorious for his ability to draw in his marker and then spin away to run in behind them. Incidentally, Ramos is just as notorious for getting too tight to his man, a mistake that would play right into Van Persie’s hands.

Van Persie to expose Ramos?

United’s top scorer is not the quickest but is very intelligent with his movement. His darting runs in behind and his ability to peel away from defenders is sure to cause Ramos plenty of problems. In fact, he managed to leave the Madrid defender for dead in the first leg when he went on to rattle the cross-bar before having another shot cleared off the line in the aftermath.

The 29-year old peeled away from Ramos again in the final moments of the game when his drilled effort from the left side of the penalty area was tipped around the post by Lopez. The defender was also culpable for United’s goal when Danny Welbeck shrugged him off to bury his header from a corner kick.

Ramos will have to contend with a geared-up Van Persie who will be desperate to score on the big stage. Following a scintillating first half of the season, the striker has run into a bit of a dry spell having scored just once in his last seven games. With 23 goals already this season and given that the team’s still doing well, he’s hardly under any real pressure to hit the back of the net. Nevertheless, a striker of his class will always be keen to maintain his high standards.

Individuals don’t always decide games but in a clash of this magnitude, an error or just a piece of skill could make all the difference. There’s a fine line between success and failure in games like these and Ramos is a liability that seriously compromises Madrid’s ability to thread that line. With their entire season riding on the outcome, the visitors can ill-afford a trademark blunder from their number 4.

Will Ramos prove to be a liability in defense for Madrid? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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