A match where a controversial refereeing decision overshadowed a brilliant tactical battle, many United hearts where broken as they crashed out of the Champions League at Real Madrid’s expense. The dream of the treble has prematurely ended. Only in this case, the Manchester United players and fans were left wondering about the decision, as Madrid took full advantage of a controversial decision and turned the game on its head to secure qualification.
Manchester United welcomed their former golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford after almost 4 years. However, the plan to unsettle Ronaldo emotionally was clearly visible, as the following two tweets by Manchester United editor Steve Bartramsuggest:
To add to the element of surprise, Sir Alex even took the bold decision of dropping Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa on to the bench, and starting Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ryan Giggs instead. While the move baffled many, who wondered what the implications of such a starting XI would be, it proved to be a complete master-stroke, as United handled Real Madrid’s attacking threat with ease despite seeing a lot less of the ball and creating more chances.
The Contest, pre-Red Card
The match started brightly, with United more than happy to be on the defensive and attack Madrid on the break and via set-pieces. Vidic crashed his header against the post, which was really unlucky.
Manchester United got an early goal in the second half, thanks to Sergio Ramos turning the ball in his own net. There were suspicions of Robin van Persie being offside in the build-up to the goal. According to me, he was just in line with the legs of the defender and with the angle of the camera, it is very difficult to judge. Take a look for yourselves, and decide.
The Red Card
The moment that changed the game for good. Everybody thought that both the players were committed for the ball, and Nani was not even aware that Arbeloa was approaching, until the last second, where it was too late to move the impending leg away. While it could have been a caution at best, the referee thought it was dangerous play and produced a straight red card. I do not understand how Nani could’ve avoided the situation in any way:
Important to mention that Arbeloa makes most of it by clutching his chest, when Nani’s trailing leg hit his arm. As both get up, Arbeloa or any other Real Madrid player does not complain, as there is no malicious intention from Nani. And one can only wonder what it makes of Diego Lopez punching Vidic while coming out for the ball, if Nani’s play was ‘dangerous’. However, nothing could be done of the decisions taken by the referee.
The sending off has serious implications on the game. Firstly, it dropped the morale of the Manchester United players while Real Madrid recieved a massive boost. Even if you call it a professional sport, these things are bound to have an impact in some way, mentally. Secondly, it changed things tactically.
Another notable incident was the Rafael clearance off the line, which was seemed by many as a handball. Firstly, it was not intentional, as anyone who has played the sport (or atleast jumped) will know that the hands are raised automatically. It still could have been a penalty easily, which judging by the refereeing later, proved to be lucky for Manchester United. Here is the incident:
A prime example of that law was the first AC Milan goal against Barcelona just a few weeks back.
Madrid’s Comeback and Victory
All the hue and cry surrounding the red card also shadowed Mourinho’s tactical brilliance, as he brought on supersub Luka Modric, who effectively changed the game with a goal and movement overall. Both the goals were of supreme quality, and United could not have done anything especially about the first goal. However, it was an expected siege and Real, to their credit, took full advantage of the situation. Mourinho took an odd step, however, in bringing Pepe on for Ozil, in order to bring some defensive stability.
The late pressure from Manchester United was not enough to score 2 goals, a task that looked seemingly impossible with each passing minute, and they began to expose themselves at the back more often, but were lucky not to concede more. The final whistle broke many United hearts, as the dream of the treble was extinguished, not because they were outplayed, but because a decision changed the game. Those who think otherwise need a perspective. That said, United fans need to accept the result and move on, and admit that some things go their way, others don’t.
Manchester United fans should be proud of the team performance. The team stuck to the tactics, and rendered a world-class Real Madrid attack impotent for large parts of the game. Any doubts about the absence of Wayne Rooney were quickly dispelled after a masterful performance from the legendary Ryan Giggs, who played his 1000th match, an amazing record. Performances from Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Rafael mean that the future is indeed bright for Manchester United. Also a special mention to Phil Jones, who was unavailable yesterday due to injury, as he was terrific in the first leg. The fact that the young brigade successfully kept the likes of Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso quiet, is a big testament to their talent and commitment.
Old Trafford was amazing last night – The players were wonderfully supported and two players got a special reception – Ryan Giggs who was playing his 1000th senior game, and Cristiano Ronaldo – who seemed to be overawed by the occasion, initially and was surprisingly quite for most parts of the game.
Sir Alex seemed fiery as ever after the red card but the most important thing about him last night was his tactical brilliance – Given a common perception that he’s better known for his man-management skills than his tactical astuteness. He got everything spot on, and deserves credit for the success United had in large parts of the game, along with the players who carried out their assigned duties almost perfectly.
United now face Chelsea in the quarter final of the FA Cup, and must regroup to face another difficult match – albeit the support of the Old Trafford faithful will continue to be as strong as ever.
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