José Mourinho believes the "world will stop" when Real Madrid face Manchester United at Old Trafford in their hugely anticipated Champions League encounter in which he expects each side to be bold as they seek to progress.
While Sir Alex Ferguson warned his team not to fear the threat of the returning Cristiano Ronaldo, who is in superb form, with the last-16 tie standing at 1-1 following the opening leg, United have what would be a decisive away goal if the match ends goalless.
In front of a packed press conference at Old Trafford a subdued Mourinho was asked what would tilt the tie for his side. "I have no idea. They are in a fantastic run, better than ever. An FA Cup quarter-final, winning the Premier League already in March and they don't lose a match in months," he said. "We are also in good form in 2013 – 12 or 13 matches with one defeat is quite a good result.
"That is the one million dollar question: what will make the difference? Nobody knows and the world will stop to watch this tie. It doesn't look a tie. It looks a final. I doubt the expectation can be bigger than this one."
Mourinho, who has only his captain, Iker Casillas, unavailable due to a hand injury, does not believe United will be as cagey as in the opening leg. In that game Danny Welbeck scored first and Ronaldo equalised before the break. During the second half United were forced to defend for long spells.
The Real Madrid manager said: "They will be very defensive when we have the ball and it will be the same for us when they have the ball. They are a strong attacking side and we will have to defend stoutly. Even though we are effectively behind in the tie, as they have the goal, we will have to attack and be bold."
Madrid arrive at Old Trafford having beaten Barcelona twice in five days – in the Copa del Rey and La Liga. Yet Mourinho, in what was a carefully worded briefing, played down the significance of those wins. "We come here after two victories but if we come here after two defeats, our feeling would be the same," he said.
"The first match is for the cup, the second for a championship we know we cannot win, the third one a Champions League tie. Independent competitions, independent feelings. But, of course, it is better to come in a period when the players are happy. Beating a rival twice, the feelings are fine but I don't think it has an influence on the match. The emotion is high and it is a pity the match is not now and we have to wait until tomorrow."
Nine years ago Mourinho burst into football's consciousness when his Porto side knocked United out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage, Costinha's 90th-minute strike putting them through 3-2 on aggregate. This prompted Mourinho to make a famous dash down the Old Trafford touchline to celebrate.
Despite going on to win that season's Champions League, adding a further triumph with Internazionale, and having won league titles in four different countries, victory on Tuesday evening will be as important as the one in 2004. "It means the same," said Mourinho. "That match was my first season playing Champions League. Now I have more than 100 matches and I can control my emotions a different way. If I lose I don't cry and if I win I don't run 100 metres."
When managing Porto, Chelsea and Inter, Mourinho recorded six wins over Ferguson, with the Scot managing two for United. There were six draws. But, yet again, Mourinho was reluctant to show any of his usual confidence. "I won, I lost, I draw," the Portuguese said. "I don't care about records. I know football and big matches well enough to know we can go through or we can go out."
Ferguson believes defence will be essential, having watched Barcelona at Camp Nou last Tuesday. "That probably will be the key to the game," he said. "They were stunning on the counterattack. We have to find a way of coping with that but also having our own threat."
Ferguson faces a selection dilemma at centre-back where he has to choose two of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, though he confirmed Phil Jones has been ruled out after failing to recover from an ankle injury. "It is a miss but we can't deem it as something we can't manage," he said.
Ferguson is aware of the danger Ronaldo poses to his side. "My biggest concern is if he turns up," the Scot joked. "What do you expect if you play against him? You expect problems during the night and try to prepare for it as best you can. The experience young Rafa [da Silva] had in Madrid will hold him in good stead [when he was given a difficult time in the first half] because he will be doing the same again. I don't think it is one we should fear. If we go out fearing the damage Cristiano can do us then we will forget what we can do."
Ryan Giggs will make a 1,000th senior appearance if, as Ferguson stated, he features.