Real Madrid 1 Man United 1: Lessons learned as Red Devils take advantage
Real Madrid 1 Manchester United 1: What lessons did we learn after the Red Devils earned a draw at the Bernabeu?
First half a tale of two heads
Jose Mourinho singled out this occasion as the match the whole world was waiting to see and the opening 45 minutes didn’t fail to disappoint. Robin Van Persie was shown a yellow card in the early stages for putting his hands in the face of Sergio Ramos who crumpled risibly. Barely qualifying as stroking, the incident evoked memories of his ludicrous sending off against Barcelona. Unsurprisingly, the build-up had focused heavily on the qualities of the ex-United man Cristiano Ronaldo, who got us off to a blistering start. The visitors failed to clear his inviting cross and the ball fell to Fabio Coentrao, whose curling shot forced an astonishing save by David De Gea. The United goalkeeper got down to his left in a flash and got the faintest of touches to finger-tip it onto the post. Manchester United were so obsessed with keeping Ronaldo out that they almost forgot about Real Madrid’s plethora of world-class talent. Despite this, the away team found themselves ahead against the run of play, capitalising brilliantly from a corner kick. Wayne Rooney swung the ball in and Ramos’ flimsy defending allowed Danny Welbeck the time and space to nod a good header into the net. The young striker gave his team the lead at the Bernabeu for the first time in their history but United looked likely to concede, partly because of De Gea’s consistently baffling decisions to punch, rather than catch the ball. With a large chunk of the game now being played in Manchester United’s final third, it was increasingly looking like a case of when rather than if Madrid would score. And that moment came on the half hour mark by none other than Ronaldo, who got his head to Angel Di Maria’s excellent out-swinging cross. The Portuguese powerhouse towered well above Evra and seemed to hang in the air for what seemed like an age to connect with the ball in sublime fashion. He celebrated with both dignity and respect for his old side, it must be said. United were looking increasingly hapless and Shinji Kagawa was practically a non-entity while others such as Phil Jones and Michael Carrick couldn’t do enough to stem the tide in the middle. Ronaldo had a thrilling left-footed shot saved but United were clueless as Van Persie wriggled about aimlessly in the middle of the park to simply weather the storm and hang on until half time. Ronaldo had another chance to head his team into the lead but he couldn’t connect with it as he would have liked and that bought proceedings to an end.
Fabulous game peters out in the second half
The opening stages of the second half started brightly with Van Persie providing a lovely cross for Welbeck from the left wing but after this move, the game fell flat on its face. The fluidity of the game was steadily petering out as the tension went up a notch. There were occasional treats though, as Di Maria used a daring combination of self-confidence and his thigh to successfully pull off an impressive volley that left De Gea firmly rooted to the spot. Unfortunately for the Argentine, his shot was just wide. Coentrao tested De Gea, who saved with a remarkably improvised flying kick of the highest order to preserve the precious status quo. Welbeck’s 40-yard impressive gallop came to an end as Raphael Varane blocked his shot and moments later Van Persie hit the bar and had a tame shot cleared off the line in the same attack.
United on course to progress to the next round
Despite Real Madrid’s utter dominance, the away side did well to take a draw into the second leg. United will feel they have the advantage with the home support and the crucial away goal. Sir Alex may opt to shore things up defensively by recalling Nemanja Vidic and if they can get an early goal, this may well set the tone for the rest of the game. In truth, Madrid battered their opponents and as they are practically out of the title race, they will be desperate to beat United and recapture the cup with the big ears for the first time in over a decade.