Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: youngsters show fight and maturity

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo takes on Wayne Rooney as Manchester United draw 1-1 with Real Madrid

It was billed by Jose Mourinho as the game the “world was waiting for”, and it didn’t disappoint. Manchester United drew 1-1 with Real Madrid in the Bernanbeu after Danny Welbeck put the visitors in the lead with a headed goal from a Wayne Rooney corner. Madrid hit back ten minutes later after a superb headed leap from Cristiano Ronaldo, who glanced the ball past the helpless David De Gea. Both sides hit the woodwork, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted with the performances of his youngsters, David De Gea, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones – who demonstrated exceptional maturity and quality on such a stage. Here we discuss the talking points of a truly brilliant football match.

Real Madrid Away Talking Points

David De Gea: Class saves and confident performance
Every week it seems that United’s young goalkeeper dominates the headlines or indeed, our talking points. He was at the centre of debate regarding his weak punch in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham, before pulling off a number of great saves in the 1-0 victory over Fulham and against Real Madrid he was exceptional, the finger tip save from Fabio Coentrao onto his post in the first half the pick of the bunch. The young Spaniard also saved with his feet from the Portuguese left back in the second half to stop the Spanish champions taking the lead.

David De Gea Stats

All evening the former Atletico Madrid keeper showed great confidence and maturity in a stadium where he would, no doubt, be under the spotlight. To combine being a former child of your rivals, the attacking threat of Madrid and the same old criticisms – he was surely bound to crumble? No chance. United’s number one, was a wall against Madrid’s 29 shots on goal. Of course De Gea had the exceptional Rio Ferdinand and now first choice Jonny Evans in front of him, with the dogged Phil Jones doing a superb job in front. Keepers make mistakes. Schmeichel and Van der Sar made them. But lately, we’ve been talking about De Gea’s world class saves rather than a weak punch.

Cristiano Ronaldo: Inevitably he scores the equaliser
It seems like only yesterday some oaf smashed into me, asked me what the score was and then applauded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer onto the pitch, when in fact it was our new signing, Cristiano Ronaldo making his debut against Bolton Wanderers, nine and a half years ago. Much has happened in that time, both for Manchester United and the player himself. It was inevitable that the most expensive player in the world would score against his old side. Ronaldo scored an absolutely glorious header after a great Angel Di Maria to put the home side back in the game. Ronaldo’s leap was reminiscent of that glancing leap over Michael Essien in Moscow to open the scoring in the European Cup final. We’ve seen Ronaldo score vital headers before in the Champions League, away in Roma and at home to Internazionale – against Jose Mourinho. Against United, Ronaldo hugged the left touchline for the first few minutes before, as we’ve seen many times from him, given licence to roam infield and influence play.

The freekicks, the dribbles, step overs and deft touches were all there – including an over erratic tumble following a soft Rafael challenge. Phil Jones dealt well with the space in front of the centre halves, which limited Ronaldo’s time on the ball in the second half, although United got deeper and deeper and relinquished possession of the football. Ronaldo could have had a second goal if it wasn’t for the hard working Jones to spoil his chance at the last moment. Whatever you ever think of Ronaldo, there is no doubting the abundance of class he has and he continues to show on the football field. His unsurprising decision not to celebrate against United, as he did in September 2007 against his first club Sporting Lisbon, again demonstrates his respect for Manchester United.

Chances and contentious decisions for both sides
I do dislike it when fans bemoan a referee’s performance, which usually comes when your sides loses. But I thought the ref tonight, Mr Felix Brych, didn’t have the best of games – awarding United a corner even though the ball came off Kagawa, whilst Real Madrid were lucky not to concede a freekick and a possible sending off when the young Frenchman Varane brought down his fellow countryman Patrice Evra in the second half. Like an angry toddler, Brych shook his head and participated in the universally recognised outward arm crossing – indicating there was nothing there. He was also too quick to reach for his yellow card when Robin van Persie’s hand brushed the face of Sergio Ramos, who hit the ground in apparent agony. Ramos was again involved in a head hitting incident, only this time around he threw his own chunky elbow into the back of Evans, who was defending a corner. The “Who me?” expression has been consistent across latin defenders for generations and Ramos, for all his qualities as a defender, does it very well.

Real Madrid dominated the chances and possession throughout the match, however – United had some wonderful opportunities to win the match. Robin van Persie hit the bar following a great save from Diego Lopez, who is younger than his receding hair line and wrinkled face suggest, whilst scuffing a chest and volley shot – which was cleared off the line by Xabi Alonso. Ryan Giggs had a glorious chance, but decided to take one more touch before being closed down. If Giggs had of indeed hit it first time, he may well have beaten the stand in keeper and given United a late lead. Even after Giggs’ chance, van Persie struck a low left footed drive in the last minute, which was well saved by the keeper. Surely, van Persie, despite having a good game holding the ball up and showing exquisite close control to wriggle out of danger and allow the team to push up, will no doubt be more clinical in front of goal at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson does a Jose Mourinho
Ferguson used to be labelled as a manager who could get the best out of his players, but was found wanting tactically in Europe. Personally, I’ve always found that to be nonsense and it may be that open attacking football is often seen as naive when playing against a more control and cautious side. Jose Mourinho appeared quite disgruntled and frustrated towards United’s style of playing, claiming that “Rio and Evans” didn’t step into Madrid’s half in the second half. His comments also suggested that Ferguson’s men were relying on a set piece, despite ignoring the fact that van Persie had three great chances along with Giggs’ effort.

Mourinho may also remember that he beat his eternal nemesis Pep Guardiola 3-1 in 2010 with Inter Milan against Barcelona, but things were very different in the return leg. The self proclaimed special one stated that the game plan was to “gift Barcelona the ball” so that Internazionale could keep their shape as this was an away side’s weakness against the might of Barcelona’s attacking arsenal. Although United were nowhere near this level, surely the under fire Madrid manager appreciates a more cautious approach away from home?

Ferguson’s deployment of a 4-2-3-1 matched that of Real Madrid, and of course Sir Alex had toyed in the 2-0 victory over Everton with Wayne Rooney in a wider position and Phil Jones doing a man marking job on Marouane Fellaini, who proved to be such a handful in the 1-0 defeat at the start of the season. Jones is young and is still learning, but he is a player that possesses a lot of pace and power, but it is evident to see that he has a maturity about him. This maturity highlights the disciplined side of his game, operating alongside the vision of Carrick as a pivot setup to intercept through balls. A few times in the first half Ronaldo gave the ball away due to the position of the two deeper midfielders. Kagawa and Rooney may have disappointing, with one looking unfit and the other playing out of position, but their shape helped others, such as Welbeck, flourish.

Mourinho believes it is 50/50 and all to play for. Thats one part of the interview I agree with him on.

Young battalions show maturity
United lined up with five players aged 23 or younger and Jonny Evans who’s only just turned 25. In terms of exposure to a game of this intensity, there was certainly an element of experience missing. After a first half that at times looked messy defensively, the response of these players was quite incredible.

After his early booking, many football fans who aren’t regular United watchers would have expected Rafael to have picked up an inevitable second at some point in the game and been sent off, rekindling memories of Bayern Munich. The ‘hothead’ tag was no doubt ready to be rolled out in the press but Rafael must have disappointed them by showing how far he’s come with a very mature second half performance. His first half will go down alongside Reading away as one to forget but the turnaround was admirable and shouldn’t be overlooked. Not to mention that few right backs ever win the battle against Ronaldo. Just ask Zabaleta.

Ahead of Rafael, Phil Jones once again came to the fore. There were a few remarkable things about his performance. The first is that it’s easy to forget he’s playing out of position; the second is that this is a player who was ill with Shingles a week ago; and the third is that he, like Rafael, stepped it up incredibly in the second half and put in a very destructive (in a good way) performance. One might point out that when Jones was in possession his use of the ball wasn’t always that clever but that’s not his forte and he was selected in a role to do a job for the team which he did admirably. Jones won’t always be the right choice to play in the middle but his performance at Spurs, against Everton and now against Madrid are showing him to be tactically a very mature young man.

There were others too worth congratulating. De Gea as noted already was excellent – although regular watchers will note he does that most weeks and that the press are only now fawning over him as they don’t watch him quite so regularly and closely. Danny Welbeck’s selection proved a masterstroke and exactly why Fergie has so much faith in him. It’s not so much that he scored that was impressive but the way he bullied Madrid with pace, power, intelligent hold-up play and a willingness to drive at them every time he got the ball. Few in our squad can carry a ball like that and arguably no one is as good at opening up space like him.

Evans, alongside Rio did their reputations no harm. Although he’s no young’un, it remains inexplicable that England don’t want Rio. There is no better English centre back right now. Evans’ selection was justified too – Vidic would have struggled with Madrid’s pace and movement… Everton suited him as they played so many high balls and were physical rather than quick through the middle.

As already noted, Rooney in particular put in a team performance even if individually he didn’t shine. He was quite wasteful in possession and his first touch not up to the high standards one expects. Kagawa too was a reason for grumbling for some fans – yet when he had the ball he was neat and tidy but the issue was that he just didn’t have the ball enough. Whether he needs to try new things or the club need to work out how to use him more effectively (I suspect the latter), it wasn’t his worst showing and fans must try to be patient with him. Our squad has enough examples of patience and faith being rewarded so such impatience in some quarters is really a tad brainless. Overall though, Sir Alex can be thrilled with how his young charges responded to a nervy first half.

All to play for still at Old Trafford
The majority of fans, pundits, press and all football know it alls will no doubt assume United are in the driving seat following the away goal scored in the first leg. United were also favourites in 1999/2000, when Mark Bosnich put in a great performance to keep the score at 0-0 in the Spanish capital. Madrid ended up winning 3-2, with Fernando Redondo looking like a Dad playing around with his young son as he brilliantly backheeled the ball past the extremely confused looking Henning Berg. United fans may also remember the 0-0 draw in Monaco back in 97/98. The game ended 1-1 in the second leg, which meant United, yet again – went out on away goals. United can look to the fact that Madrid have only won one out of their three away games this season, beating Ajax, losing to Dortmund and drawing with Manchester City. Jose Mourinho has lost and also seen his side qualify at Old Trafford since dancing a merry jig following Tim Howards’ fumble in 2004, but he has never won a match at Old Trafford in the Champions League – lets hope that continues come March 5th.

A view from the stands
Here are a few photos from the away end: (click to enlarge)

A view of the pitch from the away end

A view of the Manchester United banners in Madrid

The world wanted a spectacle and it got one. An enthralling game with neither side set out to defend produced 40 efforts on goal (source: BBC). United will feel indebted to de Gea for keeping Madrid’s goal tally to just one but United’s defence deserve plenty of praise for keeping the clear chances down to a pretty low number. By contrast, the chances United created were some of the best in the game – Welbeck at the near post, van Persie’s three efforts in the second half, and Giggs’ opportunity to shoot first time that he somehow passed up on.

The away goal, fittingly scored by a Mancunian who’s had his critics for not scoring enough, is a good return to take back to Manchester but the warning signs were there. United should fancy their chances of outscoring Real Madrid at home particularly because Madrid host Barcelona a few days before the tie. Although the league may already be over in Spain, Madrid fans and staff will not accept rolling over against Barcelona whatever their position. Bring on the second leg, at half time the edge is with United.

Also, if you want a chance of winning two tickets to the 2nd leg – have a look here!

3 Comments on Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: youngsters show fight and maturity

  1. Top quality report as ever.

    I can’t quite agree that SAF has always been tactically adept, in fact his tactics of late have been remarkable and some might think unlike Fergie. Whatever the cause, lets hope it continues. The attacking flair that is a hallmark of United is still there but we now seem to have added discipline.

    SAF has built yet another team that fights for each other, lets hope it grows and grows.

  2. Most of our success in europe has come down to carlos quieroz being fergies number two. The realisation that being successful in europe comes from building a solid defense.

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