An intriguing subplot to tonight’s Uefa Champions League tie between Real Madrid and Manchester United will be the performance of David de Gea.
The young shot-stopper has come under scrutiny since his high-profile move from Atletico Madrid to United, as the replacement for hard-to-follow Edwin van der Sar.
A series of errors has led pundits to question de Gea’s suitability to the Premier League, and have wondered about his longevity at Old Trafford despite his obvious talent.
United manager Alex Ferguson backs the youngster publicly, insisting: "It's like a kid taking his first steps forwards. He wobbles, gets up, wobbles, gets up again and eventually he walks. The boy is walking now."
But behind the scenes, it is believed Fergie’s faith in de Gea is wobbling, and that Stoke’s Asmir Begovic could be on his transfer radar.
Things get more interesting as far as de Gea is concerned, because Real reportedly consider him to be the best long-term replacement for Iker Casillas.
Los Blancos skipper Casillas has a broken hand, and has been replaced between the sticks by 31-year-old January panic buy, Diego Lopez.
The former Real youth teamer will come under attack from United’s potent strike force tonight, and depending how he fares, the Spanish club’s need to plan for the future will be brought into focus.
De Gea has admitted to finding life tough so far in England, and seemingly pines for the familiar comforts of Spain's capital city.
"At times people don't realise that it's not easy,” he told The Guardian earlier this season.
“When you come home in Spain, your family are waiting for you. When you're in England, they're not. For a Spaniard it's different.
“The worst things? It rains a lot, it's cloudy, it gets dark very early, maybe you're a bit bored. The winter can be hard. You miss friends and family. People don't always appreciate that. There are hard moments."
And so all things considered, Real’s last-16 match-up with United could be an audition for de Gea, and something to keep an eye on as the action begins to heat up.