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Ferguson primed for Madrid showdown

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson recognises that Real Madrid's burning desire to lift the Champions League makes them a dangerous last-16 proposition, but believes the Spanish giants will be feeling the pressure ahead of the clubs' first-leg meeting on Wednesday.

• Blog: All eyes on United

Madrid are the most successful team in the history of the European Cup, but have been chasing their tenth title - La Decima - for 11 years, since their last triumph in the competition in 2002 against Bayer Leverkusen.

The failure of Jose Mourinho's side to mount a serious Primera Division title challenge this season has seen the Champions League become the club's chief priority and the Real boss has admitted that the focus is firmly on continental success.

And while Los Blancos' indifferent domestic hardly makes for intimidating reading ahead of this Wednesday's clash with United at the Bernabeu, Ferguson is wary of the threat provided by a team with such a a singular goal.

"I think their target is the European Cup," Ferguson said. "They got a bad start in the league and were chasing their tail a bit because Barcelona's form has been incredible. I think Jose has set his targets firmly on the European Cup, no doubt about that.

"It can be harder for us but there's a bit of pressure for them too. At this moment in time we're involved in three things. Jose has still got the semi final of the Copa del Rey, they play Barca next week and then again in a league game before we play them on the Tuesday at Old Trafford. So they've got a big programme themselves.

"You look at English football and say it's a very, very difficult programme and every game is hard but you look at Madrid's programme at the moment and it's also very difficult. Every game is hard.

"Maybe in Jose's situation he can make changes simply because the priority is the European Cup, but Real never want to lose to Barca so he has to play a strong team in that game. But I think both teams are in a programme of playing game after game so it'll be interesting."

Mourinho has faced incessant speculation about his future in recent months but Ferguson believes his opposite number and long-time friend will not be fazed by the pressure.

"It's always been important to them, the European Cup, and I don't think it (the pressure) necessarily applies to Jose as I think he's done a great job there. He's really built up a terrific squad of players and could play two teams, like us. I don't think it applies to him but you never know in football.

"I don't think there's any secrecy in his own desire to win the European Cup as, don't forget, he'd be the only person to win it with three different teams so it's a fantastic challenge for Jose."

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