Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid eliminated Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at the round of 16 stage of this season’s Champions League in a controversial night at Old Trafford.
The first big piece of news of the evening came when the teams were announced and Wayne Rooney was left on the substitutes bench for the home side. Ferguson claimed that he could have done with another game prior to this one.
Or perhaps tactical. I’m not buying into this Ferguson-Rooney fall out that the media was suggesting straight after the game. Nani and Danny Welbeck played the pacey winger roles, there was no second striker and therefore I don’t think Rooney had a role in Ferguson’s tactics this evening.
Danny Welbeck down the wing looked like a good decision from the United manager. His pace saw him get beyond the full back on a number of occasions and pull the defence out of position. I’ve been critical of the youngster in the past for not being a goalscorer and missing numerous great chances. But he impressed me over two legs in this tie.
I believe Sir Alex Ferguson was winning the tactical battle up to 56 minutes. At that stage, they were winning 1-0, had a chance or two more than could have doubled their lead, and Real Madrid had really not tested David de Gea too greatly.
Nani Red Card
Then came the Nani sending off. And whatever Roy Keane said, I disagree with. It was never a red card. “Dangerous play” it was not – Nani’s attempt to control the ball in mid-air would not have hurt a small child, let alone a grown man. Yes, give him a yellow card if you must. But a referee with a history of sending players off from English sides, I was not impressed.
After that, the odds swung to one side. Real Madrid always looked like winning the game and Jose Mourinho certainly won the tactical battle thereafter.
In fact, that’s where Ferguson got it wrong. His side were under the cosh for the near 10 minutes between Nani’s sending off and Luka Modric’s equaliser and yet he didn’t make a substitution or change during that time.
Luka Modric Impact
Jose Mourinho’s decision to bring on Luka Modric, a playmaker, for the right full back, Alvaro Arbeloa essentially won Real Madrid the tie. Not only for his cracking equaliser mid-way through the second half, but the way he ran the show in general.
Nani’s sending off also saw Xabi Alonso find more time and space on the ball, something which United had prevented in the first half.
Gonzalo Higuain had tested the United defence with a whipped ball from the right wing earlier, and when he did it for the second time in the match, Cristiano Ronaldo was waiting at the back post to slide Madrid into the quarter-finals.
Yes, Manchester United have every reason to be aggrieved with the red card. It was a joke of a call in my opinion and that completely altered the tie. But the manager had defensive-minded players available to him on the bench and his decision not to use them played a big part itself.