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Jose Mourinho sprung no real surprises in his selection although Raphael Varane for Pepe, who hadn’t started a game for six weeks, was his biggest decision to make.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson picked a surprising, attack-minded eleven asking Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck to play on the flanks with Shinji Kagawa centrally behind Robin Van Persie. Nemanja Vidic missed the match through injury.
- This will be a night remembered for Ferguson’s brave team selection, a gamble that paid off.
- Asking Rooney and Welbeck to play wide served two purposes for the Scot. First of all he had scorers on the field who could make a difference when a given a chance and secondly they were asked to pin Real’s full backs deep.
- The first task was successful early as Welbeck rose to head home Rooney’s corner after 20 minutes. The corner itself looked like a goal kick but once it was awarded, Real fell asleep with neither Varane, Sergio Ramos, or Diego Lopez, coming for the ball in a commanding fashion.
- Rooney on the right was an interesting thing to watch. Real do a lot of their damage down their left flank so it looked from the outset a very big gamble from Ferguson. Rooney actually played very deep early in the game using his long-range passing ability to a tee, sending long balls through to Van Persie who did a good job holding the ball up.
- The great teams often have the ability to make tactical adjustments during the game and the vulnerable Rafael was Real’s target as Fabio Coentrao and Mesut Ozil joined Ronaldo in targeting that area.
- In fact, Ozil led all players with 41 touches in the first half and would go on to lead all players with a remarkable 104 over the 90 minutes. The next highest was Sami Khedira, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso each with 69.
- Ozil would play a key role in Real’s goal, coming 10 minutes after Welbeck’s, interchanging brilliantly with Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria. At this point it was Di Maria on the left who crossed for Ronaldo to head home the equaliser. It was a fine cross and no surprise that it came from United’s weak side where Rafael and Rooney were stationed.
- If the cross was good then the goal was sensational. Ronaldo jumped to a great height and then headed the ball with a wonderful force past David De Gea, who jumped for the ball when it was already in the back of the net.
- That was certainly no slight on De Gea who had a night to remember making a number of key saves, particularly one on Fabio Coentrao after just five minutes. It was no exaggeration to suggest it was his finest showing in a United shirt.
- He was not the only hero on the night for United, who got deeper and deeper as the game wore on as Real ran out of ideas. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones kept their discipline as holders while Van Persie’s movement out wide allowed Welbeck, and occasionally, Kagawa to take up the central role.
- Although Real dominated possession, United actually had the better of the chances late as Van Persie hit the bar and then miscued a shot that looked destined for the back of the net, allowing Xabi Alonso to clear the ball off the line.
- United’s changes reinforced their need for their defensive shape to remain in tact while Real’s showed a lack of ideas aside from Gonzalo Higuain for Karim Benzema which probably came 59 minutes too late. It happened one minute before the hour mark.
- All-in-all the draw was a fair result. Both sides had decisions go against them (Jones looked to have fouled Di Maria in the box & Varane tripped Evra as the last man) and could have scored more goals but 1-1 sets up a fascinating second leg in three weeks time.
- It is hard to imagine neither team scoring at Old Trafford but Real will need to be better in the final third of the field than they were in this game.
- United overwhelmingly reliant on attacking talent this season will be buoyed by this excellent defensive performance as a unit. At home (where you are asked to come out of your shell a little more) that will be tested more than in this leg.
- Job done for United so far but they are only half way there because they know this away goal isn’t as valuable as it would be against a lesser powerhouse than Real Madrid.
Stats courtesy of Infostrada
- Real remain unbeaten in home matches against Manchester United, winning two and drawing three.
- Real are now unbeaten in their last 10 Champions League home matches since losing to FC Barcelona in the 2010/2011 semifinals (0-2).
- Real Madrid have scored at least one goal in each of their last 20 Champions League matches. Only FC Barcelona (twice, 20 and 29), Arsenal (21), Liverpool (21) and Bayern Munchen (22) scored in 20 or more consecutive Champions League matches before.
- Manchester United conceded their 300th goal in all European competitions. Only one other British team has conceded 300 goals or more in all European competitions: Celtic (also 300).
- Manchester United are now unbeaten in their last 15 matches (all competitions), since losing to CFR 1907 Cluj last December in the Champions League group stage (0-1).
- Cristiano Ronaldo became only the third player in Champions League history to score goals both for and against Manchester United, along with Dimitar Berbatov and Robin van Persie.
- Ronaldo needs one more goal to equal Filippo Inzaghi on sixth place on the all-time Champions League top scorers list
- Ronaldo became only the second player after Karin Benzema to ever score against both Manchester United and Manchester City in the Champions League.
- Ryan Giggs made his 150th appearance in all European competitions. Only Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Raúl and Javier Zanetti have reached this total.