Analysis: United leave Madrid with important draw
MANILA, Philippines - Manchester United leave the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with a coy smile on their faces after they grabbed a slim, yet vital advantage over nine-time champions Real Madrid after a 1-1 draw put the English side a step closer to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
Goals from Danny Welbeck and former United man Cristiano Ronaldo gave the fans something to talk about as the two sides will square off again in a few weeks, this time at Old Trafford, where Ronaldo will return to the stadium where he led United to three straight league titles and the Champions League.
Good draw for Red Devils
It was fortunate for United to grab the lead in the tie when Welbeck headed home Wayne Rooney’s corner in the 20th minute. Madrid were dominating early on in the match and could have scored first had Fabio Coentrao’s shot failed to hit the post.
Madrid were allowed to distribute the ball frequently in the first half especially on the left flank that was being manned by Rafael, who was continuously harassed by Mesut Ozil as Ronaldo drifted to the center, only for United defender Jonny Evans to be prepared for any final ball inside.
However, the Spanish champions had themselves to blame for Welbeck’s goal as it showed how poor they are in defending set pieces which has been evident throughout the season.
Madrid defender Rafael Varane was fortunate not to be booked or even sent off after his challenge on Patrice Evra in the second half was not called by the referee.
Current Premier League top scorer Robin van Persie missed several chances on goal, and almost looked to have scored the winner only for Diego Lopez to tip the Dutchman’s ball late in the match.
Ronaldo’s moment to savor
Although he kept his word of not celebrating his goal, the man who left United to join Real Madrid in an €80 million deal back in 2009, is now more dangerous than he was then. Cristiano Ronaldo continues his scoring run, already netting 182 goals in 179 matches in his three years at the Spanish capital, with a goal that draw similarities to the one he scored in the 2008 UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea.
Knowing that his former player will be a tough one to crack, Ferguson again relied on Phil Jones, who starred in the 2-0 win against Everton, to frustrate Ronaldo.
Jones responded to his manager's trust by containing Ronaldo throughout the match and was vital in denying the Portuguese a second goal late in the second half.
It was such an emotional reunion as Ferguson and Ronaldo embraced each other after the match. Come the second leg, Ronaldo will return to the Theatre of Dreams where he once made a name for himself and will make a name again as he leads his side towards a must-win situation at Old Trafford.
De Gea makes a strong case
Madrid were missing their captain, Iker Casillas due to injury, but despite the Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeper’s absence, another Spaniard made a strong statement for United.
David De Gea, signed from Madrid’s local rivals Atletico back in 2011, has finally become the breakout goalkeeper he was supposed to be. Eight saves in the match, most notably the one where he denied Coentrao using his boot, was enough to merit the United stopper with the man of the match award and evidently so.
De Gea has already received harsh criticisms after he conceded a late goal against Tottenham last month, but that did not stop Ferguson from banking on the young player, who rewarded Sir Alex with one of his finest performances.
Although Casillas still has several years in his name, De Gea is already knocking on the footsteps of glory at the age of 22.
The return leg at Manchester
The Spanish champions will have a lot in their hand heading in to the second leg at Old Trafford. Before they face United, they will have to brave against fierce rivals Barcelona twice at Camp Nou in quick succession.
This will leave Madrid boss Jose Mourinho a lot of things to ponder on as facing their fierce rivals will find them exhausted, more so the demand for a tenth European Cup will grow stronger as they have all but conceded the La Liga race to the Blaugranas with the Copa del Rey still hanging in the balance with everything to play for in the second leg of the semifinals also against the Catalans.
Meanwhile, Manchester United are well on top of the Premier League, currently twelve points ahead over close rivals Manchester City. A run of three matches, including an FA Cup fifth round tie against Reading are the only immediate concerns for the Red Devils before they face the Spanish champions.
It’s only the first half of this interesting match, watch as it unfolds once again on March 5 (March 6 in Manila) to see whether Los Blancos pursuit of “La Decima” continues or United will crash the party and will be on course for a possible fourth European Cup. - Rappler.com