In a thrilling game that lived up to its billing, David de Gea had the night of his life as Manchester United got the away goal through Danny Welbeck’s header. But there’s everything to play for as the teams go into the second leg at 1-1 thank to Cristiano Ronaldo.
There was no settling-in period for either side. Madrid had its first shot toward goal within 60 seconds of the opening whistle. Manchester United opened the scoring.
By the end of the match, Madrid had forced 9 saves and United had a ball saved off the line by Xabi Alonso.
It was, as this description would suggest, an open game. Both goals came in the first half and both were headed goals.
Madrid’s left spent the match hugging the chalk, with Ángel di María and Cristiano Ronaldo alternating back and forth. The right was slightly less expansive particularly at the beginning of the match with Ozil eventually moving over to pitch in (and moving there permanently when di María came off for Luka Modric). This allowed United to defend fairly narrowly for most of the game.
And they did defend. It was not unusual in this match to see most United players in their own half. Pundits had expected the team to play that way, with one modification: one suspects United fans would have wanted their team to break with more efficiency. As it is, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck were the greatest threats on a night when Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney were largely anonymous until they combined for a great double chance (tipped onto the post by Diego López).
Madrid played a very high line, with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane frequently playing just beyond the half-way line.
For all that, it was still a fairly open game.
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A Goal For Each Side
In the first half, Manchester United scored off their first chance – on 20 minutes - off a typical example of putrid set-piece defending from Madrid. They had one other outstanding chance in that half. There was a point in the match where their tactic of forcing corners was very obvious. This is not surprising – nor is it surprising that they scored off one. Manchester are Europe’s most efficient corner-takers of a top-five club in a top-five league.
By the time they had conceded, Madrid had hit the post and forced several saves, including a shot from Fábio Coentrão that was tipped sideways with the very ends of de Gea's finger-nails. It is fair to say that David de Gea had the night of his life, making difficult stops against di María, Mesut Özil and Ronaldo.
Madrid’s attack was dazzling, forcing 9 saves out of de Gea – 4 or 5 of them world-class. Coentrão, who was outstanding, forced two – the finger-tip save and another in the second half. United's keeper is poor with crosses, but a brilliant shot-stopper. Sami Khedira, who is developing into the archetype of the box-to-box midfielder was everywhere on the pitch and his interplay with Özil and di María around the box was always dangerous.
Ronaldo’s header to make it one-all was sumptuous – off a beautiful cross into the box that saw him jumping early as though he knew precisely where the ball would go.
Madrid's strikers continue to disappoint. Karim Benzema was always in the right place, but his touch was off and he was too frequently surprised by balls fed him by Özil or di María. Gonzalo Higuain, when he came on, started brightly but had little effect on the match.
Xabi Alonso, who was playing injured, was removed midway through the second half with an apparent injury.
It’s not an ideal result, but the players (most especially the forwards) were outstanding. And there’s everything to play for in the second leg.
Who Was Man of the Match for Real Madrid?
Fábio Coentrão (26 votes)
Sami Khedira (11 votes)
Cristiano Ronaldo (52 votes)
Angel di Maria (41 votes)
130 total votes