Champions League - Paper Round: Mourinho's last stand

There might be an entire world of sport out there, but Wednesday's papers only want to talk about one thing: Manchester United's Champions League match against Real Madrid.

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Champions League - Paper Round: Mourinho's last stand
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Jose Mourinho turned 50 on Saturday

Though United are free and clear at the top of the Premier League, Jose Mourinho's Real are in third place in Spain - and the Daily Express has a stark warning for the Portuguese manager: "Jose's last stand - beat United or it's axe for Mourinho" reads the paper's headline.

With Barcelona 16 points ahead of Real in the Spanish table, "Mourinho will only save himself from the chop by winning the Champions League – and even then he is likely to come to a gentleman’s agreement with Perez to leave, with a return to Chelsea on the cards."

The Daily Mail also trumpets the fact that Real Madrid's coach is on his way back to English football, something which the Portuguese manager has been talking about for a good 18 months or so but which the Mail only just appears to have noticed. Undaunted, the Mail hails Mourinho for his mind games in, "choosing his official press conference to declare that he would soon be returning to English football."

The Sun focuses on Mourinho's domestic troubles, with chief football writer Steven Howard starting his piece in what is intended to be moody fashion: "He wore a simple green Real Madrid tracksuit - and a frown."

The impact of that opening line is considerably undermined by being published beneath an image of Mourinho wearing a grin so broad you'd suspect him of having been told that he'd won the lottery on the same day that Angelina Jolie phoned him up to arrange some private footie tuition.

The Mirror does better with its suitably anguished photo of Mourinho accompanying Oliver Holt's views on Wednesday night's clash and it's context within the manager's career: "The third act of Jose Mourinho’s managerial life is drawing to a close. After ‘Mourinho, Magician’ and ‘Mourinho, Magnificent’, ­‘Mourinho, Martyred’ is the story of a genius undermined by jealous pygmies in the Spanish media...

"If Real Madrid triumph over United, it will represent a victory over an enemy at home as well as from Manchester. It will represent an epic triumph over dark forces that are trying to undermine him from within the club, as well as over the team from Old Trafford."

The Times, Telegraph and the Daily Star look at the match from Alex Ferguson's point of view, with the Star calling it "Fergie's Treble Crunch" and the Telegraph saying the match is the "Acid test" for Ferguson's current United outfit.

Inside the Times, Oliver Kay turns the focus on the other big story in the build-up to the clash: Cristiano Ronaldo. The article claims that Ronaldo can single-handedly decide a match, "that will come down to United’s efforts to neutralise the threat of Ronaldo, a player whom Alex Ferguson regarded as the best player in the world – 'streets ahead of Messi, streets ahead of Kaká, streets ahead of them all' — when he sold him to Real in 2009 and whom he considers to have made a vast improvement during his three and a half years in Madrid."

The Daily Mail at least puts aside such musings and shares with its readers the six-point plan drawn up by Martin Keown - "famed for his no-nonsense approach" - for dealing with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Those six items: it's a team game, so everyone should try tackling Ronaldo when appropriate; try and stop passes aimed at him in the first place; particularly if they come from Xabi Alonso, since he's very good at passing; make sure you get to Ronaldo quickly before he does something clever; don't give away free kicks that he might be able to put in the goal; and finally, if all else fails, make sure you have somebody man marking him.

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Following Celtic's painful drubbing by Juventus, Scotland's papers take a very different line on Wednesday morning, with the Daily Record writing that the Scottish champions are "left needing a miracle" after a feisty effort crumbled in the last quarter of an hour into an agonising defeat.

The paper also grumbles about fall guy Efe Ambrose, judged to have been "seriously at fault" in Juventus's opening goal - and the Scotsman and Scottish Telegraph claims that it's only Neil Lennon who is to blame for throwing the player in.

"Plane crazy" the Telegraph screams, focusing on the manager's faith in a defender who took to the field having barely got off the plane from South Africa, where he helped Nigeria win the Cup of Nations on Sunday night.

There's more bad news for Celtic in the day's transfer gossip: the Daily Telegraph reports that Arsene Wenger has set his heart on prising Victor Wanyama away from Parkhead, adding that the Arsenal boss had a scout in Glasgow for Tuesday night's match.

The Mail runs a big story off the back of comments by Ireland and LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane, who is "desperate" for Chelsea's Frank Lampard to replace former England captain David Beckham.

"I think it is important for the team to get big-name players in and if we get Frank it will be good - he's been on fire," Ireland striker Keane said.

The Daily Star also focuses on Lampard, claiming that Everton are to make an £80,000-a-week, three-year offer to the Chelsea and England midfielder - a deal which might just tempt him as it would offer him a route to playing at the next World Cup.

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