The Special One defeats The Great One – by Aaron Agnew

Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League to Real Madrid last month at Old Trafford, as referee Cüneyt Çakır made a decision that played a pivotal role in the game.

 

The hotly anticipated tie began at a fantastic tempo from both teams; both of whom were clearly showing desire to take the initiative early on. Although Madrid dominated possession, claiming 59% of the ball at the 15-minute mark, a compact United kept their opponents on their toes with some firm pressing in midfield, in an attempt to nullify Madrid’s fluid philosophy.

 

The first clear chance of the game came for United, as Giggs’ corner was met by a powerful Nemanja Vidić header, which rattled the post, and fell to the unsuspecting Welbeck. He attempted to guide the ball in on his left foot, but Diego López collected gratefully.

 

Real continued to be frustrated by United who were demonstrating great defensive discipline and tactical competence in their approach midway through the first half. It was fairly plain to see that Mourinho had targeted Rafael as the weak link in the Man. U defence. The impressive Raphaël Varane, who exhibits great composure in defence despite being only 19 years of age, continually released Fábio Coentrão down the left flank, in an attempt to break down United’s resistance.

 

It looked as if Rafael may well have been in with a shout for a penalty in the 37th minute, when he latched on to the end of Giggs’ nicely weighted ball over the top. He controlled the ball well, but was over-powered by Ramos just inside the box. The referee correctly waved play on.

 

Ángel di María had to be brought off just before half time with an injury. Madrid played on with 10 men for a few minutes, before Kaká came on to replace him.

 

At half time neither team could take full control of the game, due to the formidable nature of the two allegiances. Robin van Persie and Gonzalo Higuaín saw only 18 and 20 touches of the ball respectively in the first half. Of the outfield players, only Rio Ferdinand saw less of the ball than these two.

Half Time

The first goal of the game came early in the second half. A United attack, which began with a great attacking drive from Rafael, saw him cut inside and slide Welbeck in brilliantly. Welbeck controlled the ball but was dispossessed by Varane. The ball fell to van Persie, whose shot was also blocked by Arbeloa. As the ball rolled towards the byline, Varane attempted to prevent the corner by clearing. However, his clearance was blocked by Nani, who proceeded to fire the ball across low and hard into Welbeck at the near post. Welbeck tapped the ball towards Sergio Ramos, who unwittingly sent the ball into his own net past the despairing López. That made it 1-0 United (2-1 on aggregate).

 

The main turning point in the game came soon after, when a clumsy, but accidental, challenge from Nani resulted (to the shock of everyone) in a red card for the Portuguese winger. His foot was raised high in an attempt to control an aerial ball, when he collided with Álvaro Arbeloa. The play was halted for a good few minutes, before Turkish referee, Çakır, produced a red card.

 

Madrid took no time in making their 1-man advantage pay, as Rafael cleared Higuaín’s header off the line from a corner.

 

Then, in the 66th minute Real equalized with a fantastic strike from Spurs old boy, Luka Modrić, who hammered his shot against the inside of the right post, and into the opposite corner, past the helpless de Gea, which made the score 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate).

 

To make matters worse for United, Madrid soon took the lead through none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been relatively quiet throughout the match. Madrid exhibited fantastic passing football, with Higuaín playing a fantastic one-two with Mesut Özil, who had kept Madrid ticking over all game. Özil back-heeled elegantly into Higuaín’s path for him to drill in the ball at the back post to Ronaldo, allowing him to tap the ball in on the slide, as he escaped Rafael. That made it 1-2 to Madrid (2-3 on aggregate).

 

At this point Mourinho brought on Pepe for Özil to add a more defensive emphasis to Madrid’s approach.

 

United continued to put up a real fight as Madrid seemed initially frivolous with possession despite their ascendancy in both score and head-count.

 

However by the 79th minute Real seemed much more settled and intent on slowing down the tempo to really finish off the job. They were quite happy to suck up anything United could throw at them, knowing that they had a 2 goal cushion (due to away goals).

 

The Reds’ chances came few and far between from here on out. Carrick forced a good save from Diego López as he headed a cross at goal late on. Rooney also had the chance to equalize, as the ball bounced up at an awkward height, but he failed to convert, blazing the ball over the bar.

 

Ronaldo and Kaká both rattled the post in the last 10 minutes but failed to net for Madrid.

 

The game ended 1-2 (2-3 on aggregate) meaning that Real Madrid will progress to the next round of the Champions League.

Full Time                

 

Key Players

 

Luka Modrić – The general consensus from the Madrid faithful is that Modrić can be considered to be somewhat of a flop after joining the Spanish for a hearty £26,000,000 in the summer. However tonight after coming on as a sub he showed what he is really capable of when he performs to his full potential. With a fantastic 97% pass completion rate, and picking up a goal, he was nothing short of instrumental tonight.

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Raphaël Varane – The young centre back has really proven his worth this season, and he is the epitome of that old footballing idiom “an old head on young shoulders”. He’s quite happy on the ball, and can pass as well; his 94% pass completion this game proved that. He’s strong in the tackle, and a quick thinker. A worthy member of this winning Madrid side.

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At the end of the day… 

 

United will, justifiably, feel a little sick at the prospect of “what might have been” had Nani remained on the pitch. Çakır’s highly controversial decision undoubtedly had a large impact on the outcome of the game, on which the Manchester club had a relatively firm handle pre-sending-off.

 

Nevertheless you cannot take anything away from Real Madrid. This may not have been a stellar performance by their own standards, but they capitalized on the advantage that they were arguably gifted, by utilizing Modrić in midfield after the sending off, to help use their possession more economically; And it has to be said it worked like a charm.

 

Although “The Special One’s” view that Madrid “Didn’t deserve to win” seems a bit harsh, Ferguson’s blaming finger at full time seemed to single out Çakır’s decision as the main factor in his side’s downfall, and in fairness, I don’t think he was far wrong.

 

Images – Both Daily mail

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