sport

Fergie: Real present acid test

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted his new Manchester United side face their "acid test" in the Bernabeu on Wednesday night.

Two seasons ago, in their third Champions League final in four years, United were comprehensively swept aside by Barcelona.

Many of the faces remain - only Edwin van der Sar and Fabio of the team that started that 3-1 defeat have left Old Trafford, but new blood has been injected in the form of David de Gea, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young.

Most importantly of all, Robin van Persie has arrived to give United the additional firepower required to compete at the highest level.

And on Wednesday night against Real Madrid, Ferguson will find out if they are the real deal.

"Our team is capable of winning the Champions League," said Ferguson. "There is a great spirit about them.

"People keep saying we're not as good as past United teams but then sometimes we get foggy impressions about the past. I do so myself at times.

"But the reality is this team doesn't know when it is beaten, which is a great quality.

"I have no doubt in my mind the acid test is tomorrow.

"It's unfortunate we're meeting this early. I wish it had been at Wembley.

"But we can't think of failing. We have to get through if we are to win this trophy."

The presence of Van Persie ensures Madrid will spend as much time fretting about what their opponents can do as United must on how they intend to stop old-boy Cristiano Ronaldo.

Van Persie scored his 23rd goal of a stellar debut campaign against Everton on Sunday, and whilst doubt may persist over the precise make-up of Ferguson's team, there is none over the Dutchman's presence.

"Robin is approaching the level of Ronaldo and Messi," said Ferguson.

"His arrival at our place has been nothing but sensational.

"He has been a breath of fresh air to the young players and also a good coach to them.

"Twenty-three goals tells you everything."

Van Persie clearly cannot do all the work on his own.

Wayne Rooney, cruelly depicted as a hooligan by the Spanish media this morning, must also shoulder his responsibilities, whilst United's defence are bound to be extended by Ronaldo's remarkable talents, which Ferguson admits have improved since his 80million departure in 2009.

"Cristiano is a better player than when he left us because of his maturity," said Ferguson. "He is at the peak of his career now.

"He was still a young man when he left and you can see how he has flourished in Madrid.

"I never thought he'd ever get the amount of goals he's scored.

"I knew he'd improve. I knew he was one of the best players in the world. But to score the goals he has is phenomenal."

Two years after Ronaldo left Manchester for Madrid, David de Gea made the opposite journey.

Castigated at times for bad mistakes, most recently by Gary Neville following a blunder at Tottenham last month, De Gea remains Ferguson's first choice.

The 22-year-old was sat alongside Ferguson as he spoke this evening.

And it was clear the United boss felt a sense of responsibility for De Gea's development.

"David has shown his character because he has taken a lot of criticism, sometimes unfairly," said Ferguson.

"What we are good at is developing people.

"He came to us as a very young man, not used to the English game and unable to speak the language. Also he was still to mature physically.

"But it's a like a young kid taking his first steps forward, he wobbles, then gets up, wobbles, then gets up again and eventually he walks.

"The boy is walking now."

De Gea insists he has improved since his 18m arrival from Atletico Madrid.

And whilst United arrived in Madrid with an almost fully-fit squad, with the exceptions of Paul Scholes, who has a knee injury, and Darren Fletcher, whose season is already over, De Gea was well placed to assess the damage caused to Real by Iker Casillas' hand injury.

"Every time Iker Casillas is not there he is a great loss," said De Gea.

"He is the captain of Real Madrid and Spain.

"They have two other keepers who can do it as well as he does. But it is still a great loss."