I can be a sore loser at times, you can tell from the rare occasion that we lose and I may neglect to post for a day or so but I would be doing a disservice not only to the team and the supporters in Old Trafford tonight if I was to ignore this game.
There were misgivings about Stretford End Flag’s ‘plastic flag’ mosaic but rather than feel embarrassed by it, it added to the atmosphere. The fans, Real Madrid’s included, created a cacophony of sound that gave the game a further edge and even when it seemed like the tie was lost the fans remained in good spirit singing ‘We’ll Never Die’.
There was a respectful welcome for Cristiano Ronaldo but the supporters let him know that we have our own players that we are firmly behind, with Van Persie, Giggs, Carrick and a host of other players saluted by the fans whilst Jose was told to sit down (he complied too!).
Now for the game and the players.
Often when a team loses people look for scapegoats but tonight there were none. We fielded 11 heroes who worked hard for each other and the fans only to see their hard work undone by some poor officiating. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, Real had a strong spell at the start of the game and after United scored, but on the night and over the two legs United were equal to and even bettered their opponents.
Now United are a top team so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but because of the press’ reaction when the draw was made and throughout this season, the performances are a huge middle finger to doubters and detractors. This was meant to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s weaker teams, a team top of the Premier League by twelve points only because everyone else has been so poor. In reality that is nonsense and it showed tonight more so than ever.
Real were flat and largely because of the team. Danny Welbeck terrorised the Madrid back line as he did at the Bernabeu. Ramos was given a torrid time and even the burgeoning reputation of Raphael Verane took a knock because Danny was willing to run at and beyond them. He pulled them out of position, creating space for others. He caused a panic in the box as United took the lead and it was the slightest of touches that wrong footed Ramos for the goal.
He also did a brilliant job of nullifying Xabi Alonso and thus cutting Real Madrid’s supply line. A good forward yes, but as a player Welbeck is immense, there are parts of his game that need polishing but when he does Ramos and countless others will be in more trouble than they already are.
David De Gea shone in the first leg but in the second had little to do bar picking the ball out of his net twice. He can count himself unlucky that his titanic efforts amounted to nothing but if this tie did something, it confirmed that he is very much United quality.
De Gea can put his relatively quiet night down to the 4 players in front of him. Rafael who was given a tough time in Spain was solid offensively and defensive. Ramos felt the need to give him a little tug when he broke forward threateningly in the first half and he cleared a header off the line in the second when Real turned on the pressure in the second. Vidic was a monster in the air as always with defensive header after defensive header and could even have got onto the score sheet with the post denying him. Rio Ferdinand showed he is still quick of mind and limb with timely interceptions and recovering challenges whilst Evra was a constant outlet to bring the ball out of defence to alleviate pressure.
Carrick was brilliant as always and dropped back to clear any danger that presented itself and did this well , he may be getting his praise now but it should have been forthcoming a long time ago. Nani will unfairly be seen as the man that caused the tie to turn, but it was by no fault of his own. His selection raised a few eyebrows but he justified his position in the team as he too harassed Madrid’s defence, specifically when United looked to break. He drew the error from Varane that lead to United’s opener and showed he can still impact games.
The player I sympathise with most is Ryan Giggs though. The Welshman’s 1000th game will be memorable because in it he showed why he is regarded as a living legend. Putting in an almighty shift on the flank, he offered Rafael more protection than Rooney did in the first leg. Di Maria, Ronaldo or whoever; nobody enjoyed much success due to the work he did in tandem with Rafael. Getting forward he showed brilliance with outside of the boot passes as he looked no part of his 39 years.
I can only offer up an apology for the piece I penned in January questioning whether he should call it a day at the end of the season. It goes to show, that whilst I may be an ok-ish writer (and that’s pushing it!) I should be kept as far away from the Old Trafford hot seat as possible!
Even after United went down to 10 men we still forced the issue and it’s fair to say despite the deficit we were still largely the better team. Rooney’s volley over the bar and Lopez’s saves from Carrick, Van Persie and Vidic; it was largely down to him that Mourinho’s side find themselves in the draw for the competition’s next round.
The game also showed that contrary to the belief of some small minded and misinformed football fans, Sir Alex is as tactically astute as the best of them. For 6o or so minutes United looked a good bet for the quarter final, with Welbeck and Giggs deployed so effectively.
There are no tears to be shed, hours later I have even let my anger at the referee subside. What we saw tonight was proper United, pulling it out of the hat when people expect it the least and even when the odds were stacked against them, carrying on because as the song says we’ll never die. It was reminiscent of Tennyson’s Charge Of The Light Brigade in how the team, despite everything saying no, the away goals, the 1 man disadvantage, still tried to say yes and came so close to doing what would have been the impossible.
So rather than grade each player individually, I will just express my pride in the team, the fans and the club as a whole. We must now look onwards and upwards as there are 2 more trophies to fight for.