Mourinho and Real Madrid made it an unbelievable ten days for the Spanish giants – Barcelona defeated home and away and Manchester United conquered at Old Trafford. Yet, the overbearing feeling at the end was one of injustice at least in the United camp. The game delivered everything it promised: goals, overwhelming atmosphere, tactical battles but controversy marred a truly epochal occasion from some of its flavor. Nonetheless, Madrid go marching on to the next round as Fergie’s men now must now focus their attention on reclaiming the league crown and perhaps the domestic double as well.
Team Line ups: Fergie has a surprise in store
The Special One put out all his aces from the deck at the onset as Real Madrid lined up as per expectations with hardly any surprises at all. Ferguson on the other hand sent a shock wave among the United contingent as the talismanic Wayne Rooney was left out of the starting eleven. The grand old man of Old Trafford Ryan Giggs got a rare start and that too on the right wing to the bemusement of one and all. Welbeck started in the hole behind RVP and the much in form Jonny Evans was left out for Nemanja Vidic. Nani’s selection on the left wing raised an eyebrow or two but the players more than justified Ferguson’s team selection.
Ryan Giggs and Rafael combined superbly to brilliantly negate the twin threat of Conterao and Ronaldo down United’s right flank. Danny Welbeck harried and pressed Xabi Alonso as the Spanish maestro hardly got anytime on the ball to look up and pick a decisive pass. The midfield axis of Carrick-Cleverley sat deep and negated the threat of customary Madrid counters as Jose’s men failed to get behind the United rearguard.
First Half musings: A game of chess but United looked content and comfortable
After a few punches the two heavyweights settled down and the game developed a pattern. United allowed Madrid to have the ball in front of them and allowed Mourinho’s men to chase the game. The strategy was to break swiftly on the counter and exploit the space between the two center backs.
The duo of Ramos and Varane held firm and along with Diego Lopez just about managed to keep the Red Devils at bay. Cristiano Ronaldo was unusually subdued, perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion and the ovation although the Portuguese did manage to get free once but David De Gea was alert. Danny Welbeck was once again the biggest thorn for the Spanish side; with his tireless running the Englishman had a positive impact thereby justifying his manager’s trust on his young shoulders.
At the half time, United had the better of the exchanges with Vidic hitting the post but the match hung in the balance.
United come out flying and snatched the lead
United made most of some indecision inside the Real Madrid penalty box and a Luis Nani cross was placed into his own goal by Sergio Ramos. So United went ahead on the night but the goal didn’t really change a lot as Madrid still only needed a goal to be back on level terms. Nonetheless United looked compact, disciplined and a well drilled outfit while Madrid searched for inspiration. There seemed no imminent danger for the home side but football hardly ever follows the script.
Nani shown the exit door as Mourinho makes the right call
The game changed 360 degrees much to Sir Alex’s displeasure as the hitherto comfortable United side were reduced to ten men after Luis Nani was shown a straight red for presumably a dangerously raised foot on Alvaro Arbeloa. The Portuguese winger was flabbergasted, Fergie was irate and the seventy thousand odd United supporters inside Old Trafford looked on in utter disbelief as the Theatre of Dreams was bathed in a sense of injustice.
But credit to Real as they made the most of their numerical advantage and Jose’s substitutions worked like a charm. Former Tottenham man Luka Modric restored parity with a sumptuous curling shot that was too good for even the magnificent De Gea. United were rocked and before they could regroup, Cristiano Ronaldo twisted the proverbial knife through million United hearts with a goal which all but killed off the contest.
Mourinho must get the plaudits for his timely substitutions and perhaps Fergie should have been proactive after the sending off as the United changes arrived ten minutes too late. Ronaldo with the important goal in each leg further enhanced his reputation as a big game player and his muted celebrations confirmed his status as an all time Old Trafford legend.
United showed heart but bow out
After Madrid took total control of the tie with their twin strikes, United once again upped the ante with the introduction of Rooney and later Young and Valencia. Red Devils to their credit fought valiantly and carved out at least four great opportunities but were thwarted by the Madrid player of the match – goal keeper Lopez.
Patrice Evra went down inside the box and another decision which on some other day could have gone United’s way; well it didn’t on the day it mattered. Mourninho’s side saw out the final few minutes and progressed to the quarters as the ‘La Decima’ moves closer to reality. United were disconsolate, Sir Alex enraged and heartbroken. Fergie’s thirst for his third European glory remains unquenched as Jose’s clinical Madrid side must surely believe they can go all the way to Wembley.
Men of the Match: Ryan Giggs & Diego Lopez
Giggs put on a brilliant display on his 1000th appearance but the dream of European glory slipped away for the Welshman. Giggs’ selection at the start didn’t necessarily please the pundits but once again the winger displayed tremendous spirit, great skills and unbelievable stamina to put on yet another memorable display in front of a bewildered OT crowd. Ryan Giggs, the man, the marvel.
Diego Lopez must be the toast of Madrid at the moment. The former Villareal and Sevilla shot stopper perhaps gave the most outstanding performance and definitely the most memorable one of his career to single-handedly keep a plethora of United chances from bearing fruit. Stuff of legends by the 31 year old and surely he must be allowed to keep his place even when Iker Casillas returns.