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Feb 152013

Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo 008 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!







After an absolute gem of a football game, Manchester United’s former star winger Cristiano took the time to hug his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson long and hard. Having scored an awesome headed goal to tie an adrenaline-powered, brilliant game, CR7 may not have changed the minds of those who believe he’ll never be the equal of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the best footballer of his generation, but he did put to rest the rhetoric of the Haters who believe he never shows up mentally prepared for the big games. Indeed, considering just how good the Portuguese pretty-ManBoy is, just how well Manchester United played as a team against him and his supporting cast made for an epic, nerve-jangling, nail-biting night of magnificent football so good that it reminds us that we are human. I won’t be so bold as to believe that we are favorites going into a return match at Old Trafford three weeks from now, but I do sincerely think we own the very slightest, hair-of-my-chinny-chin confidence of owning ever such a slight advantage by virtue of having what will be an especially amped up crowd cheering for us.

65878713 65878372 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!Magnificent throughout, United performed on a razor’s-edge all night, keeping up a consistent balance between a relentless, hard pressing defensive game refreshingly free of the many errors they’ve been subject to all season and a fine ability to execute quick, probing counterattacks that kept the Spanish champions from ever going about their business on the front foot. With goalkeeper David De Gea taking care of business between the sticks at his old club’s nemesis, a star was born. Indeed, so good was the lean, leopard-like custodian that I imagine the rumors of both Barcelona and Real coming to get him and perhaps ultimately paying out the kind of money that was spent on Ronaldo do not seem unrealistic. As with Ronaldo, who was accused for years of being a one-trick-pony capable only of step overs, De Gea has been attacked relentlessly by critics for having difficulties with high crosses and no stomach for the physical side of the English game. Great players do not develop overnight in a vacuum, however. And although Ronaldo’s expensive supporting cast of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira, et al, are all fine performers, they were out hustled by the sheer work-rate and commitment of all eleven Manchester United players. Even United’s weakest link, Patrice Evra,, all too often marooned on his old legs somewhere around the center spot, had nine teammates bound and determined to carry his cross.

It was no surprise that the ever-charming Jose Mourinho was more inclined to discuss how badly his tactics were carried out by his players than complimenting United for smothering them. More than a few folks were taken aback by his statement that United “parked the bus” at the Bernabeu. He actually sounded like he was talking about his own team Inter two memorable seasons ago when they played tar-baby to a frustrated Barcelona; but one is never sure whether the self-styled ‘Great One’ is being facetious, or not. Counterattacking has always been a stock-in-trade for Mourinho’s sides. In this sense, with his side built to feed Ronaldo with a relentless conveyor belt’s-worth of passes and attacking relentlessly, Sir Alex Ferguson beat the Great One at his own game.

Just how unfair those bitter comments from Mourinhoare  is born out by just how close United came to scoring at least four times. Robin van Persie, who has been a goal machine, seemed awed at the occasion throughout and even. Ryan Giggs, a substitute who was received by Real fans with the kind of applause the Bernabéu faithful withhold to all but a great few, missed a gaping sitter which he was still be cursing himself over days later.

Those missed chances, however, point to the fact that, tactically, Sir Alex Ferguson got it right. Along with the counterattacking came containment. Phil Jones was incredibly energetic in midfield, both covering for Rafael da Silva as he moved up and slotting in next to him to cut down on Cristiano Ronaldo’s windows of opportunity. Even Wayne Rooney was there backing up Rafael and Jones. Still, even three United warriors couldn’t keep the brilliant winger quiet throughout. Despite being limited in opportunities, Ronaldo came shockingly close with at least three fantastic bazooka-like shots from around 25 yards out that all just missed the goal by a hair’s breadth. And although Real always looked the more relentlessly dangerous team, the only really good chance had by anybody save Ronaldo, happened five minutes in, falling to Fábio Coentrão whose shot hit the post before being pushed away by De Gea’s full-length save.

A weakness every football fans knows about is both sides’ vulnerability to crosses. Yet United, with both Ferdinand and Evans opting to stay close to goal throughout, managing to hold firm. Without the world’s highest-rated goalkeeper, the injured Iker Casillas, Madrid seemed weak at the back. Their stand-in keeper Díego Lopez, bought in January to replace the injured Casillas, along with Sergío Ramos and Rafael Varane, were all given a torrid time by Danny Welbeck.. Criticized by many for not picking a traditional winger like Nani or Young,, the Gaffer opted for Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney pumping in the passes the strong, muscular native Manc.

The first goal of the game, 20 minutes in, proved Ferguson right for being a gambler. With Shinji Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney all behind Van Persie and the pesky Kagawa repeatedly running in behind him, a frustrated Varane gave up a corner. Rooney’s corner went over Jones, but with Varane and Ramos locked in on Robin Van Persie, Welbeck was able to push away both of them in the six-yard-box, dipping his header past Diego López.  Often too hot to handle for either Real center back, Welbeck also came close to scoring again  five minutes after Ronaldo’s equalizer leaving Varane for dead as he raced for Van Persie’s left-wing cross but botching his footwork as he tried to execute a delicate volley.

Ten minutes later, though, after much frustration for both Ozil, and Di Maria, Fabio Da Silva had trouble in the corner with Ozil. Stealing away with the loose ball, Angel Di María whipped his cross into the penalty area for Ronaldo who rose above a very mortal Patrice Evra–remarkably high with both of his ankles conjoined, like a basketball player executing a text book jump shot–and nodded home a bullet header into the bottom left corner that left De Gea clawing at the empty air.

The second half was more of the same. And although Real Madrid owned the lion’s-share of possession, they never looked capable of being lethal when Ronaldo was off the ball. Frustrated throughout, Real consciously upped their foul count. And, ten minutes into the second half, Varane was unbelievably fortunate that the German referee, Felix Brych, gave him the benefit of the doubt after a thuggish challenge on Evra, who was running unmarked  on to a beautiful defense-splitting Michael Carrick pass.

In the waning moments of the match, both teams battled bravely. De Gea saved yet another Sergio Coentrão effort with his feet, thumping the spinning ball away from inside his right-hand post. Then a screaming Ronaldo free-kick dipped on to the roof of the net. Then a selfless Rooney sent Van Persie clear and Diego López reached to finger-tip the shot on to his post. Seconds later, after a lightning transition, Van Persie scuffed at a perfect pass to beat a wrong-footed Lopez only for Xabi Alonso to clear.

In a last bizarre moment during stoppage time Diego López denied Van Persie. Instead of allowing the resultant corner, the referee blew his whistle, simultaneously ignoring an incident that saw substitute Pepe kick Jonny Evans for no apparent reason.. The good Lord Ferg, often the lightning rod for venting vexation in similar Premier League situations, was a surprising island of calm. A rosy-cheeked Pict Buddha, he calmly raised his hands in the direction of both an outraged Jonny Evans and an only slightly calmer Rio Ferdinand, spread his fingers and broke into a Cheshire Cat grin. It wasn’t a perfect display from his team, but there was no way the questionable ethics of any referee were going to spoil this night.
65878714 65873950 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!

Ivor Irwin

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