1) Having been on such an impressive stretch of form of late and after our impressive performance against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu I was fully expecting us to go through to the next round. Although Mourinho’s men had been in fine form themselves recently with back-to-back wins over Barcelona, but the amount of discipline and finesse in which we were playing our football throughout the last month or so gave me enough confidence to believe we could knock out the Spanish giants and progress to the quarterfinals. You’d imagine Barcelona will probably find it too big a task to overthrow AC Milan who hold a two-nil lead over the Catalan, and with Chelsea out, you could look around at the competition and wonder how many teams there are actually better than us. Bayern Munich aside, the rest of the teams you’d imagine will go through to the next round, we could beat. Sir Alex would have made the players aware of the opportunity at stake here.
2) Wayne Rooney set up two goals against Norwich and scored a peach but didn’t have the best of games overall whilst Kagawa rounded off the night with a fantastic hat-rick. Phil Jones and Evans were also massive performers for us in Madrid who I fully expected to start at Old Trafford too, so you can imagine my shock when I read all four had been dropped from the starting line-up. Ryan Giggs, a 39 year old, was asked to help Rafael man-mark the best player on Earth down that right-hand side with Carrick alongside Cleverley, who had barely featured in our recent few games, playing the central role with Welbeck ahead of them to keep track of Xabi Alonso. It was bizarre to say the least but it wasn’t the first time Sir Alex has pulled off something like this, and so I remained confident that we’d get the result we wanted.
3) A lot had been made about the atmosphere for the game with frequent arguments about ‘plastic flags’ and whatnot, but all that mattered was that the fans got behind the team and made themselves heard, and they did just that. The Old Trafford atmosphere can be guilty of lacking at times but none of that was present yesterday and so it was nice to see. It really helped spur the players on and highlighted just how special an occasion this was, or could have been. With the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, it was always going to be interesting to see how our fans were going to react to his presence on the field. Were they going to mockingly boo him? Were they going to sing his name out for 90 minutes?
4) The first ten minutes consisted of us pushing high up, getting the ball and passing the ball sloppily and carelessly. Maybe it was the nerves coming from such an enormous occasion but it did take us a while to settle in, but once we did, it was worth the wait. Every time we picked up the ball in their half, we looked capable of scoring and every time they had the ball, we didn’t look like conceding. It was completely different to our away game at Madrid were we looked vulnerable with every attack. Nani and Welbeck in particular posed a real threat with them running onto balls behind Varane and Arbeloa whilst Carrick ran the show from midfield. The second half started off as impressively as we had ended it with Nani and Welbeck again involved in the attack which saw the Portuguese whip a dangerous low ball into the penalty area for Welbeck to flick the ball against Sergio Ramos who conceded an own goal which gave us a much deserved lead.
5) I really don’t know what more to say about the referee that hasn’t already been said. His performance was shambolic to say the least, but more worryingly, a quick look through his Twitter account will see that he also follows Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid and Marca. Surely Uefa would have picked up on this before appointing this moron to referee a game of this magnitude and importance? Surely assigning a referee who will do his job from a neutral perspective is not too much to ask at this level. In fact, it says everything about just how poor a referee he was that, in a game involving millions of pounds worth of quality on the field and arguably two of the greatest managers to ever feature in the game, the one man everyone was talking about afterwards was himself. This was no small error that should be forgiven, it was a huge mistake and it wasn’t just an isolated incident. It wasn’t just the ‘sending-off’; it was the entire game, the non-penalty against Evra, the numerous dirty challenges on our players in the first half which saw him wave ‘play-on’. You could see just how angry Sir Alex was at the decision as he ran out from the dugout and protested to the bewildered fourth-official who himself did not understand the decision to send Nani off. Jose Mournho actually apologising to Sir Alex over the decision should tell you everything. It was a shambles and a disgrace to see, but more than anything, it was a shame. A shame for football.
6) The manager has been in this situation before and will use this to get the team together and carry them past the finish line in the league by creating an ‘us against them’ mentality. Fergie and hopefully the players too will be angry and ruthless in their pursuit of their 20th title. The league has and always will be the priority for me so as long as we finish the season as champions, that’s all that matters. Yes, winning the Champions League is a wonderful achievement but moments like yesterday are a reminder as to just how reliant you can be on luck in these competitions. We have Chelsea next in the FA Cup at Old Trafford which should see Sir Alex field a strong team and go for the kill what with Rafa Benitez making a return to Old Trafford, followed by games against Reading and then Sunderland away. If we can win all three of these games we’ll be in a fantastic position to finish the season with both domestic trophies locked up in the Old Trafford cabinet.
7) Having said that, let’s not let that clueless referee take all the headlines today as we had some massive performances from all the players yesterday night who showed that, despite all that has been said, we’re still up there with the best teams in the world. One final mention has to go to Ryan Giggs who gave a performance which left me speechless at times. I’ve been watching Giggsy play for United my whole life but never have I seen him cover that much distance when tracking back and going into tackles. It was an honour to see him play yesterday and such a disappointment to see his 1000th career game tarnished the way it has been.
8) Arise Sir Ryan Giggs – 1000.