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Mar 3, 2013

Ferguson: Real peaked too soon

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes Champions League opponents Real Madrid have peaked too soon heading into the clubs' second-leg tie at Old Trafford.

• Okwonga: Kagawa gives Fergie quandary

Madrid caused a sensation after twice defeating arch-rivals Barcelona in the space of a week, a 2-1 La Liga home victory on Saturday following on from a 3-1 Copa del Rey triumph at the Camp Nou.

The two victories are an ominous prelude to Tuesday's Champions League match, sitting precariously at 1-1 after the first leg and with Madrid needing to score at least one goal to advance to the quarter-finals.

But Ferguson remains unconcerned Los Blancos will repeat their domestic feats on the European stage, believing their performances have already "hit the heights".

"What was I thinking after watching (Madrid's Copa del Rey win)? I just wanted to sleep," he told The Sun. "They were fantastic and every part of their game was spot-on.

"You get that sometimes, I've experienced it myself. You need 11 players to play well but, on odd occasions, you have 11 players who are absolutely superb.

"That's what you had the other night. They had 11 who were absolutely superb. But I don't think they'll reach that height on Tuesday. I think it was a one-off performance.

"They'll still play well and we'll have to make sure we play well. But the other night they really hit the heights, it was a top performance.

"We'll be okay because it will be a different game. That was the issue on Tuesday, their counter-attacking was terrific. We're aware of that and our preparation has to include that but I think we'll score, I really do."

Despite their recent twin defeats of Barcelona, Madrid have endured an inconsistent campaign this season, Champions League and Copa del Rey involvement hampered by a 13-point deficit to the Catalan giants in the league.

And much of the criticism has fallen on the shoulders of Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, with many pundits and analysts believing this could be his last season at the Bernabeu.

But Ferguson has jumped to the defence of his beleaguered counter-part, commending Mourinho for the role he has played in maintaining a strong Madrid in a time dominated by Barcelona.

"Everyone assumes he'll leave but I heard that last year, too. I'm not certain he'll leave," Ferguson said. "Maybe it's possible because there's no smoke without fire and I'm sure that clubs would love to take him. He's given me no indication.

"I don't know how they can replace someone like him, anyway. I think he's done a great job there. A reasonable assessment of his time at Real Madrid has got to be countered with how good Barcelona have been. They've been an exceptional team.

"Would you really want to let a good coach like that go? I don't think (Madrid president Florentino) Perez would want that. So what you are reading about Chelsea and all the rest... I just think it would be difficult for Jose to leave Real Madrid because he's at the top."

However, Ferguson did admit Mourinho should fear for the safety of his position should Madrid be knocked out of Europe at the Theatre of Dreams.

"I wouldn't know how they'd react to going out," he said. "They have that Spanish mentality and have changed their manager that many times over the years. For Jose and for Perez and the supporters, the European Cup is going to be really important for them this season, there's no doubt about that.

"They won it in 2002 and, considering their history, I suppose 11 years is a long time since they last won it."

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