Tactically efficient. Going to the Bernabeu is never an easy occasion let alone the first time your former hero plays against you. Tonight had all the fixtures to be a modern day classic. Managerial rivalries, individual player battlers and historical comparisons between the club were rife – but on the night, Manchester United came out as winners.
Ferguson set up a starting XI that was designed to not lose, and it didn’t. Putting Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck on the wings for their work ethic worked well. While Rooney did not have his best game going forward, he was always doubling up on Ronaldo with Rafael and, in the main part, it stopped Ronaldo from cutting inside and shooting.
As for Danny Welbeck, take a bow. Danny “doesn’t-score-enough” Welbeck was phenomenal. If not for the performance of David de Gea, Welbeck would definitely be taking away the man-of-the-match plaudits. His work rate was, as it always is, unrelenting and he did well when isolated against the Madrid defence. Tonight was slap in the face of any Welbeck critics.
As for Phil Jones, he certainly did his part in stopping Ronaldo get a foothold of the game. By always forcing him wide, Jonse nullified the best part of Ronaldo’s game. He was frustrated by the attention and discipline United gave him in defence and it was typical of him to find another way, a towering header, by which to cut a hole in the armour. Jones certainly deserves his credit for another man marking performance last night, this time against the world’s best player.
David De Gea. Every player has a coming of age game, a performance which you feel is where a player turns into a man – last night was de Gea’s. For United, he was man of the match without a shadow of a doubt. If he wasn’t on such top form, United would have certainly come away from the Bernabeu with a loss.
He set the tone in the first few minutes with a world class save to tip Coentrao’s effort onto the post and continued to deny Madrid throughout the whole game. It took a towering header from Ronaldo, that no keeper would have saved, to beat De Gea on what was a massive game for him personally.
After spending his whole career at Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid have been his sworn enemy for over a decade. Given the pressures of the occasion, he could easily have crumbled but his outstanding performance is surely a turning point for him. Journalists will now have to appreciate the genuine talent that De Gea is and that, when all the cracks are ironed out, he will be the best goalkeeper in the world.
“I didn’t celebrate because I played in Manchester for 6 years and it was very emotional for me. It’s not fair, not respect.” Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo. It was inevitable. Ronaldo was always going to score last night. Even if Evra leapt four feet in the air, Ronaldo still would of won the header. At the point of contact, his knee was level with Evra’s neck – phenomenal.
It was surreal to see Ronaldo playing against United but not surprising to see his performance. His consistency is incredible and Rafael had the worst 45 minutes of his season in the first half as Ronaldo, Ozil and Coentrao terrorised him down the left.
Despite Ronaldo’s fantastic goal, you can’t say that he dominated United. Jones’ buccaneering performance all but stopped Ronaldo cutting inside to shoot, certainly his most dangerous trait, and it played a massive role in United’s 1-1 draw.
Ryan Giggs received a standing ovation from the Real Madrid fans. Ronaldo is certainly going to receive the same treatment in three weeks at Old Trafford.
Rafael resilience. The first half performance of Rafael was poor. He was tormented down the left wing and an unnecessary challenge on Benzema left him on a yellow card for the majority of the game. The Rafael of old would of crumbled under the pressures of the need for complete discipline but not this Rafael.
He turned his performance on its head in the second half and stifled Ronaldo. It was a 45 minutes that show exactly why Ferguson has put such faith in the 22-year-old. This season, he has been one of our best players and is a likely candidate for Young Player of the Year in the Premier League.
Given his previous experiences with Champions League football, he could easily have continued to be brash and tight to his man but he didn’t. He learned from the pains of Bayern Munich and used it to his advantage, even finding the time and space to buccaneer forward as the half continued. A great response from Rafael.
Set up perfectly for the return leg. Any United fan would have bitten your arm off for a 1-1 draw before kick-off but, incredibly, we had the best opportunity to win the game.
If there was any player you would of wanted the ball to drop to in space, it was Robin van Persie but his air kick saw his effort cleared off the line dramatically. Regardless, it was a phenomenal result on an extremely difficult night and brings the tie back to Old Trafford with the advantage for United.
Theoretically, we don’t have to score to go through in three weeks but given how this season has gone, I’d be surprised if both teams didn’t score again next week. It is now set up to be a classic at Old Trafford and I hope it is, so long as I don’t see Mourinho’s knee slide on the sidelines.