Real Madrid winning a European final is not something you would call unexpected. They are like a machine ready to crush everything in front of them when they reach the match that wins them silverware and they produced a display like that against Manchester United for the better part of the final.
United’s 2-1 loss to champions of Europe was not a great surprise, though Jose Mourinho’s side showed signs of improvement against the very best team on the continent. Casemiro scored midway through the first half from what seemed like an offside, but either way, Madrid were in a deserved lead.
Madrid’s First Half Dominance
They were dominant from the first minute of the match, United’s midfield unable to control the game against world’s classiest playmakers. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – with the help of Isco, who started before not fully fit Cristiano Ronaldo – were pulling all the strings, while Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale often tried to unsettle United’s defensive line.
Manchester’s display in the first half resembled what you would call world champions playing England’s sixth best team, as Andy Mitten pointed out last night – and it did look like that in the opening half hour – but it offered valuable lessons.
This is looking like the Spanish, European and world champions against the sixth best team in England.
— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) August 8, 2017
United are still far off from the best sides of the continent. They were unable to get the hold of the ball, while lacking pace in counter-attacking opportunities, due to Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera not being what you would call pacey players in a Marcus Rashford-Anthony Martial style.
The young Englishman entered the game after half-time break, Mourinho trying to shake things up. This thinking did get more out of United’s players, as they started threatening, though only after conceding for the second time.
More Fight, More Chances
Real Madrid seized the opportunity after a beautiful one-two Kroos and Isco played at the edge of United’s box, the German setting the Spaniard free after five players in red shirts were taken out by a brilliant pass. Isco had easier job to finish it off and double Madrid’s lead.
After that, United started playing much better. Marounae Fellaini entering the game brought more fight to it, with the Belgian occasionally bullying Madrid’s defenders, especially Dani Carvajal. Manchester were pressing better in the second half, not giving Modric & co. as much time on the ball and the chances started coming by.
Nemanja Matic’s shot from some 25 yards out was deflected by Keylor Navas perfectly for Lukaku to bury it in like a real poacher and make it 2-1. Rashford had a one-on-one after 80 minutes of play against Navas, but his poor finishing cost his side equalizer and the keeper from Costa Rica steered the ball away.
Positives For United Despite The Loss
Manchester United’s obvious shortcomings in the first half were bad news for Mourinho, but also a message in disguise for the Portuguese. He saw everything that did not work against the best team in Europe and the second half display was much more reassuring. Mourinho and United adapted to the situation, improved their game and brought fight into it.
In the end, it was not enough for an equalizer, yet United will have many positives to take out of this match. Matic showed why he was bought, his class fitting into starting XI right since his arrival. Fellaini demonstrated why he will be Mourinho’s loyal warrior and Lukaku showed he will use every chance he gets to score a goal. Manchester United seem ready for the new season.