1) What a game! After our win against Everton on Sunday I started to feel nervous and anxious just thinking about our game against the Spanish giants which made it all the more bizarre that I felt extremely confident a few hours before kick-off. Normally I’d have been physically shaking at the prospect of us playing Madrid in what is in my eyes the biggest game in world football, even bigger than your El Classico and possibly the defining game of our season. I’m still not sure why but something just felt right about yesterday night, and genuinely I felt that we really could walk away with something. I had predicted a 1-1 end result just before kick-off but after the game had ended I felt slightly disappointed that we were only going away with a draw after having so many chances. Having said that, I am extremely proud of our performance and I’m sure I’d have taken a 2-1 loss if you’d have offered it before the game as long as we had that all important away goal.
2) Many people questioned why I had Kagawa, Jones, Welbeck and Evans all in my predicted line up but I strongly believed that this was going to be the team Sir Alex was going to field, and he didn’t disappoint. It made complete sense after all as Danny is really strong defensively and was going to sweat blood if need be when tracking back. Jones was given his usual defensive-midfield role which meant he would get stuck in and stop the Real midfield from passing the ball too freely, with Kagawa using his creativity on the wing to make do with whatever little he saw of the ball. The big talking point was why I predicted Sir Alex would play Evans ahead of Vidic, and the answer is quite obvious in that Evans is faster and more agile. If we’d have been caught on the break with Vidic and Rio trying to keep up with Cristiano and co, we’d have been massacred. In the end, it was the logical team to play and I remain chuffed that I predicted 10 out of the 11 starters, with Rio being the exception!
3) With the footballing world watching us play yesterday, it was quite fitting that young Danny Welbeck would be the one to score our vital away goal and put us one up after a disappointing start from our team. You’d imagine it would do wonders for the life-long Manchester United fan and he would really start to push on and grab a few more now that he’s bagged a goal after such a long run. His story is a wonderful one though, and there will now be players in the United academy looking at Danny and thinking “If I work as hard as he did, that will be me in a few years”. Welbeck is living the dream and is an inspiration to many.
4) As great as Danny Welbeck was yesterday evening, the real hero was David De Gea. After pulling off one of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen early on to keep the score level after he pushed a curling effort off against the post, he went on to make one fantastic save after another. Nobody has ever questioned his shot-stopping ability but he elevated himself to another level yesterday with him quite literally catching nearly every shot thrown at him. A personal highlight was his unorthodox save where he managed to pull off a goal-line clearance with his foot. Importantly however, he also dealt with any aerial threats with minimal ease. I strongly believe that, in five years’ time, he will be the one of the best goalkeeper in football. Let’s just hope he’s still wearing our colours when he is.
5) It had to be him, didn’t it? It seems like so long ago when people would question Cristiano by saying he would disappear in the big games but today was almost certainly one of the biggest games of his career, and he still managed to score with a bullet-header. After a wicked ball was whipped in by Di Maria, Ronaldo somehow flew and thundered the ball in past a hapless De Gea. The fact that Ronaldo’s knee was above Evra’s head who still hadn’t even started his jump says everything about the goal. He really is the best player on Earth and I would take him back to United in a heartbeat.
6) Maybe I’m being a bit stingy but I really think we could have won the game yesterday. Although we saw very little of the ball, we had quite a few really good chances. Robin van Perise, who was magnificent, could have scored a hatrick on another day. First he smashed the ball against the bar, then he saw his shot cleared off the line by Alonso and finally he had a beautiful shot saved well late on by the ‘keeper. Welbeck also had a great chance with his shot saved well by the goalkeeper after a dangerous cross from RvP. Ryan Giggs too had a chance which went begging late on after the ball come out to him in the box but for some reason he decided to take a touch rather than shoot it first time. Having said that, we played great and at least we have something to show for it thanks to a Danny Welbeck away goal.
7) Now I’m not one to nitpick but the referee really did have a shocker. I think his performance can best be explained by his final contribution to the game by ending the match as United were throwing players forward to attack a corner. What did the referee do? He ended the game before he’d even given us the chance to take it. Abysmal. Oh, and there was also that ‘little issue’ of him not sending off Varane after Patrice Evra was through on goal and was brought down by their last man. Clear sending off and yet not even a foul was given.
8) It was a wonderful touch to a spectacular game to see the Real Madrid fans giving Ryan Giggs a standing ovation as he was being subbed on. I’ve always liked Real Madrid and it was a nice gesture to see them acknowledge a truly exceptional footballer. I am certain that the crowd at Old Trafford will do the same for their sweetheart Ronaldo once his name is called out. Having said that, it was truly devastating to hear about the brutality the Spanish police carried out towards our fans in Madrid.
9) So what to expect for the second leg? Hopefully more of the same! Obviously a lot will depend on our form and injury list but I think we will approach the game in a similar manner to today with the key being us not giving Madrid a chance to catch us on the break. Hopefully Wayne Rooney and Kagawa will have a better game at Old Trafford than they did yesterday night, although I do expect Ashley Young to start ahead of Kagawa on the left hand side. Having said that, our second leg is a good three weeks from now and we really should be concentrating on the league and taking every game as they come. Next up are Reading on Monday night at 8pm.
10) Anyone else notice how all our players were wearing yellow shoes? Yeah, that was strange.