As the dust settles after part one of the perfect match, Manchester United will head back to England satisfied after a hard nights work. “Grandpa” Ferguson once again proved why he is regarded as a managerial great as he picked a team with a gritty work ethic yet an ability to cause the Real rearguard problems. Although the stats paint the picture of Madrid being the more dangerous team on the night, United arguably had the more clear cut chances with Robin Van Persie uncharacteristically missing a golden opportunity to give United two away goals.
However, the early stages were dominated by Madrid with Fabio Coentrao forcing David De Gea to make a world class save, one of many vital saves he made on the night. Despite the mounting pressure United managed to take the lead as Danny Welbeck met Wayne Rooney’s (known amongst the Spanish press as the “freckled devil”) inviting corner to head the ball past the hapless Diego Lopez. The lead only lasted 10 minutes as Ronaldo showed why he is such a potent threat. As Angel Di Maria swung in a cross from the left Ronaldo leapt into the air, hung there (towering above Patrice Evra) before powering an inch perfect header into De Gea’s bottom left hand corner. Despite the persistent Real pressure United did create another good chance in the first half with Welbeck unable to get enough on a Van Persie cross.
The second half took a similar rhythm to the first with Madrid cranking up the pressure with long spells of possession with the occasional glimpse of goal, whilst United were trying to absorb this pressure and hit Real on the counter attack. However, the game could have taken a huge turn when Raphael Varane appeared to bring down an advancing Patrice Evra. If the referee would had deemed this as a foul he would have surely had to send the young defender off which could have changed the outcome of the game. Apart from a shot from Khedira which forced De Gea into a smart save, a half volley from Coentrao which forced De Gea into an unorthodox save with his feet and a few dangerous attacks being scuppered by the superb United defence, Real failed to create too many clear cut chances. It was in fact United who had the clearer sights of goal with Robin Van Persie having 3 shots, which all could have found the back of the net on another day. The first two came as he was released by Rooney before firing a powerful shot off the crossbar via the fingertips of Diego Lopez. As Real failed to clear the ball properly Van Persie then ghosted in behind their back line, chesting the ball down, swivelling but failing to connect cleanly with his shot which Xabi Alonso cleared off the line. The last of Van Persie’s chances came in the last moments of the game as he saw an angled shot pushed wide by Lopez.
The United performance as a whole will give Ferguson plenty to be confident of ahead of the second leg, but the outstanding performances of De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Welbeck and Evans will in particular clear up any doubt over their ability to perform against the best. The biggest headache that Ferguson faces ahead of the second showdown with his old friend Mourinho is whether he sets his team up in a similar way as at the Bernabeu or goes for a more attacking approach. One thing is for sure though; Madrid will be heading to Old Trafford on March 5th with the plan of all out attack and trying to expose the frailties that have plagued United’s defence this season.
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