Mar 5, 2013, 7:37 PM EDT
What was a captivating game between two of the worlds biggest clubs became controversial the minute Nani’s boot met Álvaro Arbeloa’s chest. But before the foul, we had one of the more interesting matches of the Champions League season, one where Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactics had put Manchester United on the cusp of the quarterfinals.
And the decisions that enabled those tactics started with Manchester United’s starting XI:
- Wayne Rooney misses out on the starting XI - What was Alex Ferguson thinking, sitting one of his two cornerstone players? Thankfully, a few scribes caught up to him prematch and got his thoughts. He wanted Ryan Giggs on the right to help against Cristiano Ronaldo (where Rooney had failed in leg one), and he liked Danny Welbeck as his best defender against Xabi Alonso in the middle. Why Rooney didn’t get the start on the left of United’s 4-4-2, I’m not sure, but there was at least some method to the madness.
- And the madness worked - Welbeck silenced Alonso, forcing Sergio Ramos and Sami Khedira to spend more time with the ball at their feet. Giggs was much better along the right than Rooney had been at the Bernabeu, perhaps forcing José Mourinho to flip Ronaldo to the right flank in the eighth minute. Before Nani’s sending off, Real Madrid scarcely threatened David de Gea.
- Sergio Ramos held Real Madrid together - The 48th minute own goal was ironic, a ball sent through the six by Nani that went off Ramos’s right leg and in. Until that point of the match, Ramos had clearly been the match’s best player, not only performing admirably defensively against a United side that used Welbeck’s speed to threaten on the counter but also stepping into midfield to play the ball while Alonso was marked out of the game. Replace Ramos with a normal defender and Real Madrid may not have been within one when Nani’s seen off.
- Did I mention Nani was sent off? - Of course I did. Here’s one view, Steve’s counter point, and some analysis from Graham Poll that highlights the fissures in the controversy.
- United had a bad 10 minutes - Given how Ferguson set up his team, United could have held on for the last 32 minutes. But the red card was a controversial, contentious event. It’s not surprising United may have lost focus. Luka Modric scored about five minutes after play resumed. Cristiano Ronaldo scored two minutes later, after which United reasserted control. But by then, it was too late.
- Diego López’s contributions will be forgotten – Even down a man, United had a number of chances to pull even. Yes, they would have needed another goal, but if it weren’t for Diego López, United may have been able to build that momentum. The January buy of the former Villarreal No. 1 paid off today.
What now for both of these teams?
It’s tough for Manchester United to move on, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. They got a tough Round of 16 draw, had to face one of the tournament’s best teams, yet were arguably the better side. José Mourinho admitted as much after the game.
For the second time in four years, United’s dealt a bitter knockout round exit, but coming off a disappointing 2011-12 tournament, the Red Devils affirmed their place as one of the world’s elites. The team can be proud.
And credit Real Madrid for getting through them, particularly having to win a second leg at Old Trafford. For Mourinho, it’s the second time in his career he’s done so, though this time he needed some help from one of his countrymen.
Unable to consistently generate chances against United, it’s difficult to see Real Madrid as being on Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund’s level. But between their talent and their coach, they have a chance at that decima. That’s all that matters.
May 24, 2013, 8:31 AM EDT
The first-ever all-German UEFA Champions League final is one day away, take a look at our infographic to see which side has the edge.
May 24, 2013, 8:01 AM EDT
Christie Rampone and Sky Blue FC try to stay atop the NWSL Saturday in Overland Park.
May 23, 2013, 11:24 PM EDT
Manchester City overcame a 3-goal deficit at Busch Stadium in St. Louis as Edin Dzeko bagged a brace to beat Chelsea 4-3.
May 23, 2013, 11:03 PM EDT
Just days after Jose Mourinho mutually parted ways with Real Madrid, he will be completing a deal to become Chelsea’s next manager, says Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports via Twitter.
May 23, 2013, 9:54 PM EDT
Roberto Martinez has given himself more time to decide on his future at Wigan, and also gave them a wish list.
May 23, 2013, 8:44 PM EDT
Asmir Begovic is apparently intending on showing up at the door of another club to start training.
May 23, 2013, 7:16 PM EDT
AS Monaco, rich with the injection of money from a Russian tycoon, are set to make a huge splash, possibly as much as €70 million.
May 23, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT
The United States U-18 squad drew with the hosts in the middle of three group-stage matches during the 19th Annual Lisbon International Juniors Tournament.
May 23, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT
20-year-old Jonathan Osorio picked up his debut call-up to the Canadian national team along with three other Toronto FC teammates ahead of their friendly against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
May 23, 2013, 5:11 PM EDT
“Football clubs live on and we’ll live on, we’ll move on.” They’ll move on, they have to. But will they effectively?
May 23, 2013, 3:56 PM EDT
With the upcoming Champions League final this weekend featuring an all-German cast, Germany secured another massive Champions League achievement today.
May 23, 2013, 3:33 PM EDT
Anyone else bothered by the way Bayern Munich have conducted themselves ahead of this Saturday’s Champions League final?
May 23, 2013, 2:39 PM EDT
Sunderland’s central defender will say goodbye to the English Premier League in exchange for a switch stateside.
May 23, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
Chelsea fans will be delighted, while those supporting Manchester City are sure to question who’s on their team’s mind.
May 23, 2013, 1:37 PM EDT
Should the champions of the Europa League be awarded a spot in the following season’s Champions League?
May 23, 2013, 12:07 PM EDT
The city’s decision to permit Columbus to wear angers Espanyol fans, who believe Barca receives too much support from local institutions.
May 23, 2013, 11:22 AM EDT
Despite notching an impressive 104 goals in 185 matches since moving to the Bernabeu in 2007, Higuain has struggled this season.
May 23, 2013, 10:04 AM EDT
With Arsenal rumored to be courting Swansea center-back Ashley Williams, Thomas Vermaelen has some decisions to make.
May 22, 2013, 11:51 PM EDT
Serie A’s two Milanese clubs have yet to move for new head coaches.
May 22, 2013, 11:06 PM EDT
Over the last three months, Rafa Benítez has reignited a floundering career.
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