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Picking Ourselves Up After Real Madrid Defeat

When United were drawn against Real Madrid in the Last 16 of the Champions League we knew we had a battle on our hands. Whilst the Spaniards have failed to impress in La Liga there is no hiding the fact they currently have one of the best managers and squads in European football.

We may have breezed through our domestic season so far, despite not being too impressive for the first few months, but the Champions League is a totally different level, requiring more purposeful tactics and more solid performances. The last time Sir Alex Ferguson pitted his wits against Jose Mourinho in the Champions League we were victorious, with two fairly easy games against his Inter Milan side, who went on to win the Treble the following season. Still, Cristiano Ronaldo is more than capable of dragging any team over the finish line and to underestimate their capabilities would have been foolish.

With fifteen minutes played at the Bernabeu I was genuinely concerned, not just with our chances of progression, but with our chances of not being embarrassed. They saw so much of the ball and their attacks crashed down on us in waves. Our players held their nerve though and went ahead thanks to a Wayne Rooney corner which Danny Welbeck got on the end of. We’d got the away goal we’d all been desperate for. On reflection, one away goal was fairly (not totally) meaningless, as it was unlikely that we’d see a 0-0 at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo equalised, as you’d expect, and declined the opportunity to celebrate out of respect for his former club, again, as you would expect. Leaving the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw was a decent enough result though and I was full of optimism for the return leg. In the league I like to see us blow our opposition apart but in Europe I’m always impressed to see us neutralise our opponents. Being able to soak up the pressure, even let them take the game to us, but still get the result you want is very satisfying. When Carlos Queiroz first started introducing these tactics for the Champions League I was appalled, much preferring that gung-ho ‘United way’, but I have a certain admiration for the more sophisticated tactics required to succeed on the continent now. We probably saw this at its best in the two legs against Barcelona in the 2008 semi-final when we stopped them from scoring and should have won both games 1-0 (if not for Ronaldo’s early penalty miss at the Nou Camp), despite them dominating possession. They passed from one wing to the other, rarely able to penetrate our back line, with us absorbing everything they threw at us. At the Nou Camp they managed six shots on target and at Old Trafford just three. It was clear we would need a repeat of this performance if we were going to get to the quarter-finals this season.

You can always feel the difference inside Old Trafford on the big games and Tuesday night was no different. The ground was full earlier than usual and the anticipation for what we were about to witness was huge. There had been plenty of fuss about plastic flags in the week leading up to the game but the Sir Alex Ferguson stand was happy enough to participate when the time came with “Bring on United!” being flashed on the scoreboards and chanted from the stands.

The game started well, despite the surprise of Wayne Rooney’s absence, with our players keeping their shape and David de Gea having next to nothing to do. He was the Man of the Match in the first game, making a couple of unbelievable saves, but Cleverley and Carrick worked hard in midfield and our back four was impeccable, meaning De Gea was much better protected. What added to our performance was Ryan Giggs playing like a man possessed and Danny Welbeck making the Real Madrid defence look uneasy whenever he ran at them. They were our best performers on the night, two players who’ve grown up in Manchester playing for our club, which should fill any fan with immense pride. This is what sets United apart from the other clubs at the top in England. The closest City have to a homegrown player is Micah Richards, a Brummie who grew up supporting Arsenal, who Oldham have a 20% sell on clause for after City snapped him up when he was a teenager. At Chelsea, the last player to come up through the ranks was John Terry, who made his début 15 years ago. At Arsenal they have Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs. In contrast, year after year United are competing for the title and in Europe with a group of academy products playing regularly in the first team squad. It was great to see two of them shine against Real Madrid, with Cleverley also playing his part, and Jonny Evans desperately unlucky to miss out on the starting line-up after such impressive performances in the league.

With two great performances against Real Madrid, I can only imagine what the fans in Spain think of Welbeck. In these games he showed what he is capable of. He has a great touch and really quick feet. Whilst not quite as much like Bambi as when he first broke through a few years back, gangly and all over the place, he still has a nasty habit of doing something brilliant then tripping up over his own feet. But he’s just 22-years-old and should have a bright future at this club.

At half-time and the score at 0-0 the nerves really started to kick in. You know you’re just 45 minutes away from being on top of the world or being totally gutted. Whilst I had probably more or less prepared myself for the possibility of a defeat, there was no way I was ready for how the game was about to unfold.

A few minutes after the restart we took the lead after Nani tried to find a red shirt in the box. The ball took a nick off Welbeck and if not for Sergio Ramos would have found Robin van Persie at the back post. Van Persie wasn’t presented with the opportunity to make amends for that painful miss at the Bernabeu though because Ramos put it in the back of the net for us. Despite losing the ball a few times in the first half, much to the frustration of some pockets of impatient fans, Nani had justified his inclusion.

Then, less than ten minutes later, Nani was sent off. You very rarely see that red card over the course of a season and become accustomed to seeing the ref waving around the yellow. It’s always fairly shocking when you see the red but I was absolutely gobsmacked this time. You usually get that feeling of dread before you see it, having watched one of your players make a crunching challenge or bringing down a charging striker when there’s no one else there to cover him. Watching the referee hovering around Nani when he was on the deck I was waiting for him to dish out a yellow card and I was pissed off enough with that. He was clearly just attempting to bring down the ball, he wasn’t even making a challenge, but according to Law 12, fine, it was a caution. It was dangerous. The only people claiming it was worthy of a red card are people who aren’t familiar with the rules. Unless you think there was an element of “brutality” to Nani’s delicate toes, it wasn’t serious foul play and it wasn’t a red card. That’s not opinion, it’s just the rules of the game. Maybe the referee, pundits and journalists should familiarise themselves with them, before telling us “it was a harsh red, but…”.

The players and the fans are united with their ‘never say die’ attitude and Rio Ferdinand said after the game it was the best atmosphere he’d heard at any ground throughout his career, but the prospect of 35 minutes against this well organised Real Madrid side seemed almost impossible. Mourinho acted quickly, bringing on Luka Modric, and five minutes later he equalised. It was a quality goal and there’s not much you can complain about. United should probably have closed him down faster but it was a top finish. Stunned from the red card and equalising goal, United found themselves 2-1 down a couple of minutes later. Vidic and Rafael didn’t get close enough to their men and we paid the price.

Just because you go down to ten men it doesn’t mean you forfeit the game though. Other teams have had a man sent off in tougher circumstances than that and they’ve gone on to score themselves and win. On a different night maybe we could have been one of those success stories. Maybe if Diego Lopez wasn’t in goal we would have been celebrating one of our greatest comebacks, but he made a couple of brilliant saves and Jose Mourinho claimed he was Man of the Match. The small details make all the difference and after the unjust sending off the game was still in our hands. But had Nani not been sent off I have no doubt we’d have gone through because the game was playing out just as we wanted, with Ferguson’s tactics working perfectly. There was a perfect balance to our game, with us able to keep them out, whilst also having chances at the other end. When Real Madrid were given the unfair and unjust advantage of the extra man, they adapted and went for the kill. They got their two goals then sat back, and fair play to them.

Anger from injustice is probably a better feeling than disappointment from not being good enough. Maybe the frustration keeps you awake a bit longer but once you get past that, whether that takes you a couple of hours or a couple of days, what you’re left with is much more positive. The Real Madrid games were the first test for this latest Ferguson team and they held their own. They stood toe to toe with one of the best sides in Europe and as Jose Mourinho correctly pointed out, the best team lost.

“Independent of the decision, the best team lost,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this. My feeling is that Manchester United were playing very well, were very compact and aggressive in a good way. I doubt that 11 v 11 we win the match. I know Manchester United are giants, not just physically but mentally.”

Our manager was too “distraught” to face the press, as revealed by Mike Phelan, which earned some derision from rival fans. Without getting too soft, I don’t like the thought of Fergie like that. Seeing him stood on the touchline after the sending off, getting the crowd going, urging us to be the clichéd 12th man (but on this occasion, the 11th man), you had to know how desperate he was. Who knows what his plans are but maybe he did or does intend to retire at the end of this season. Maybe this was his last chance of winning the European Cup and he had to see it taken away from him because of the incompetence of a referee. This man lives football and breathes Manchester United, so however gutted you are feeling, it probably doesn’t compare with his emotion right now.

Still, this was just one decision, one game, and United carries on, as it always does. I wouldn’t have fancied our chances against Bayern Munich this season anyway, I don’t think this team is quite ready yet. There’s always the off chance we could pull a Chelsea, get battered and still leave with the trophy, and I’d take winning the trophy any way than not winning it despite being the best. But there are other seasons and other opportunities, and if the manager had been thinking about packing it in at the end of the season, the silver lining might be that the bent ref has given Ferguson that extra hunger to carry on.

We’re 12 points clear and we’ve got an FA Cup quarter-final to think about. Robin van Persie has looked unfit over the past few weeks and with only Evra and Carrick playing more minutes than him in the league, maybe it’s time he was given a game off. Javier Hernandez enjoys scoring against Chelsea, with six goals in the nine games he’s played against them since signing for us, and could do with more playing time after being shunned for the Real Madrid games.

There’s no denying what a disappointment this week was but now our focus can be on winning our trophy back and possibly making it a double. City don’t have the distraction of Europe either so it won’t do our title chances any harm to be able to give the Premier League our full attention. In May, hopefully we’ll look back on Tuesday night as small blot on what was an otherwise truly successful season. Onwards and upwards. We’ll never die.

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About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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121 Comments

  1. kanchelskis says:

    @greenhoff77

    If ever I wanted reassurance that Rooney was going to stay, it would be that berk saying he thinks he’s going to leave. The most halfwitted ‘pundit’ ever to open his ill-informed mouth.

    I mean Christ, look at the event he spouted his gobshite at: the Absolute Radio Rock N Roll Football Lads Night In event.

    I’d rather nail my ballsack to a tree than be within a mile of that wankfest.

  2. Proverb says:

    kanchelskis

    Was just replying on the general note mate
    It awkward but I tend to respond indirectly but that shouldn’t get you upset, if so then apologies

    But my initial objective is to get my point across. Its such a snide way but that’s how I contribute without directing the response to anyone cause a lot of folks feel aggrieved when you try differ to their opinions

  3. Sparkz says:

    Just putting it out there – I’d be interested to know what you guys would have done…in HINDSIGHT. Looking back on it, would you have started Rooney over RVP?

    I feel RVP is a better player in the final third than Rooney is – he’s a better finisher and his hold up play/ability to bring others into the game is better (as we saw in the first leg)

    BUT..Rooney has been a consistent, proven European goalscorer for us over the last few years.

    I can’t help but feel that he would bagged at least one goal over the 2 legs.

  4. Toms says:

    Everything tastes sour when we had a treble for the taking. A premier league is a premier league but it has also been the weakest one in years.

    If we had lost fair and square, fine. Better team won. That’s football that happens. if it had been a bad offsides call, well that happens but that red card was so absolutely ridiculous.

  5. Jon Phillips Rose Hill says:

    Yeah let’s take comfort in blaming the Madrid supporting ref. What’s that you say? He also follows Barca on Twitter? Following on Twitter doesnt mean yiu support them? Oh er, er, er, blame the FA!

    Never have I seen such a bunch of babies.

  6. domunited says:

    did the ref make it out of greater manchester alive?

  7. Sparkz says:

    Maybe he’s just a Spanish supporting ref then….bearing in mind he regularly sends off Premier League players. Gave Barca a dodgy pen against Chelsea last year as well.

    Or, rather than being bent, he could just be incompetent. Either way we were robbed.

  8. NBI Red Onion says:

    @ Jon Phillips Rose Hill – you still perving on a united site you silly cow, go back to your prison bunk with your boyfriend.

  9. King Eric says:

    Jon- Fuck off back to your City site you cunt. You have fuck all to crow about. You haven’t been on here all season. Wonder why? Small club.

    Mank Harvin – Don’t even get me started on those bastards at The Sun. I called them 2 years ago to ask why the fuck they would NEVER call Fergie “Sir Alex”. The snide cunt at the newsdesk called me a weirdo and hung up. I called back again and he said “we do call him Sir Alex”. Lying bastard.

  10. bombay_devil says:

    @NBI red onion,

    It is definitelty frustrating when the swine pogba plays well. Even more so when he says shit like:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2289487/Paul-Pogba-feels-disappointment-Manchester-United-exit-Real-Madrid-Champions-League-Juventus-beat-Celtic.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

    fucking chut!

  11. King Eric says:

    Seriously who gives a flying fuck about that greedy cunt Pogba? Fuck me its like we lost one of our main players and contributors. We have sold FAR better and more important players.

  12. Jon Phillips Rose Hill says:

    ‘King’ Eric – I have been on here this season. Many times you buffoon. Now wash your mouth out potty mouth.

    Absolutely brilliant that the guy at The Sun called you a weirdo and hung up! Classic! I can just imagine him sat there in Wapping and some complete loser phones him up to complain about not calling someone Sir! People like you actually do exist! I thought it was urban myths or something. Did you used to write in to Terry Wogan on Points of View too?!

    Of course, I apologise if you were making your phone call story up for a laugh or something.

  13. Big Vex says:

    The double wouldn’t be a bad tonic..

  14. Jon Phillips Rose Hill says:

    Actually King Eric, I was wrong. The brilliant part is that you actually retold the story!!!!

  15. King Eric says:

    Jon. Yeah totally made the story up for a laugh. Fucking idiot. You wouldn’t know about knights of the realm and club legends supporting such a small club. God struggled past Villa other night didn’t you, a team resembling a pub side. Your players know it’s over pal and they couldn’t give a fuck. Bunch of Rentboy wankers. Nice to see your summer signings making such a huge impact. They are truly world class. Now you sit back and enjoy watching United wrap up number 20. That’s SEVENTEEN more than you. We haven’t even needed to break sweat.

  16. King Eric says:

    Jon. To be fair and totally honest your post did amuse me, I even admit I probably will have sounded idiotic. Worst part is the only number I could find was the gossip newsdesk!

  17. AlphaRS says:

    @King Eric
    Feck me a City fan on here trying to take the piss. 12 points clear and the highlight of his season was to see United get dumped out of Europe by a dodgy red card. Times must be tough for the trolls. Ha.

  18. King Eric says:

    AlphaRS. Absolutely mate. I have had all the Abu’s at work laughing and saying it was a definite red card. Fucking idiots.

  19. Dela says:

    @Jon Phillips Rose Hill –> a UEFA ref is not supposed to show ANY public interest in a team. Perhaps the Turkish authorities are OK with him following publicly all the Turkish clubs, and that even makes sense since he’s a Turkish ref. However, outside of Turkey he follows Barca and Madrid. Out of the entire of Europe, he follows their official Twitter feeds, he follows Messi and he follows Ronaldo, and he also follows Marca, the Real-supporters newspaper in Madrid.

    Now does that mean he’s a Madrid fan? No of course not, but he is REFEREE and he has publicly shown interest in them, their star player, and their propaganda publication and he was still tapped to referee a game that they were playing in. Do you honestly think that’s OK? Put City where United were, let’s say Yaya Toure saw a red for that and the punditry is 99% unanimous (as are the comments from retired referees) that it was a bad call, and then after the game you check his Twitter account to see all of that. He’s not a Madrid fan, but should HE have been allowed to ref the game if he shows public interest in a side in the game? Clearly not. This is an era where there is currently a MASSIVE investigation into match fixing and corruption in football, and therefore UEFA should be far better in vetting the referees they deem fit to take on the responsibility of the Champions League.

    This guy has controversy in his history too, and he STILL got to ref that game. I would imagine it is not policy at UEFA to check public accounts like Twitter accounts before assigning a referee, but if it was, he wouldn’t have been assigned because European football is already under the microscope for match fixing and corruption. United have not even mentioned this guy’s Twitter account,. but if Fergie does mention it, he will definitely be charged with misconduct BUT it will be worth it because it will start a debate about a referee’s public disclosures on teams they like enough to follow them, and whether that should affect their ability to get certain games. It will make fuck all difference to United, we’re out and there’s no way back in, but it will spark a debate that could tighten UEFA’s selection process for referees from next season on.

    Think about UEFA for a second.. this is an organization that tells black and asian players to report incidents of racism to the referee, but WARNS them that if they walk off the pitch or take matters into their own hands… even RESPOND to racism… they will face disciplinary action. At the same time, if an official makes a disastrous call that decides a match in favor of one team, you aren’t even allowed to criticize his ability to ref. This is very much the same in the UK. Match officials are protected even when its 100% clear they got decisions wrong.

    Even worse, while UEFA announced Rio won’t be charged for his sarcastic applause in front of the refs face (I thought he should be..), they also said that they will examine the red card incident to see if Nani deserves more than the automatic 1 match ban for the red. Now again, here’s a major problem with UEFA, they can examine to see if a player deserves more of a punishment, but NOT if he deserves NO punishment. They do not rescind red cards, no matter how ridiculous they might be. This has, in the past, put players out of finals for the SOFTEST of cards, double-yellows and so on. I also find the fact that if you get a yellow in both legs of a tie you miss the next match, that is so fucking stupid and its pointless. You can get a yellow card for rolling your eyes… that’s actually true.

    Then we have the problem of no blanket understanding amongst refs. For example, a lot of German pundits found the Nani decision correct, and only one or two in England found it correct (which was the same for most of Europe). Why? Because there are different takes on different situations in every league. The problem arises particularly for English clubs… whether its City or United or Chelsea (who experienced it TONIGHT for that penalty that put them 1-0 in the tie)… we all get cards for stuff that is normal in the Premier League, and decisions against us for them. The EPL is a more physical league… whereas La Liga is a huge advertisement for what to do if u are on fire… drop and roll… and the more dramatic it is the more likely the ref is to book a player or send him off. So a Spanish ref, refereeing a game between lets say an English and French team, is going to be accustomed to handing out yellows for minor incidents (relative to English games).

    RvP, when he was an Arsenal player, took a shot at goal at the Nou Camp a couple of years ago. What he didn’t know is the flag had gone up and the ref blew the whistle.. but he didn’t hear it because the Nou Camp is extremely loud… he turned around and put his hands up to the linesman because he didn’t believe he was offside… then what happened next was one of the pathetic moments of the modern European Cup… he was yellow carded for kicking the ball away… that is, the referee said his shot wasn’t a shot, he kicked it away in frustration, which ANY viewing of the incident shows to be complete bullshit. It was his second yellow so he was off. Later on in that game, right at the end, a chance fell to Arsenal to go through… and bendtner fucked it up… had van Persie been there he would have taken the fucking net off and Barca would have been out. But because of an incompetent ref doing something that is probably normal in his home league… but absolutely foreign in the game he was reffing… Arsenal were denied a strong chance of progressing.

    I know you are a City fan and take nothing but delight from what happened the other night right or wrong (and I want you to continue that and tone it up because we thrive on it), but if you don’t think there are major problems in Europe of this nature, and that English teams in particular are at a disadvantage because of their style of play week in, week out, then you are blind. You need to remember when it hurt you.. like when you should have had a penalty at the Etihad against Madrid. You don’t have that much experience in the Champions League (not criticizing here..) but if you go through the groups next year to the knock outs, every red here will tell you, you have about a 50/50 shot of going out due to a bad refereeing call, and a more than 50% shot of having at least one terrible call against you. Mark my words

    But ye, it’s back to domestic affairs now. We’ll see you at Old Trafford in a few weeks time and hopefully again in the FA Cup!!

  20. Sushi says:

    Ur problem in Britian is simple that fucking slimy cunt Rupert Murdoch and his multiple tabloids and shit rags have created a perverted culture that he helped export to other countries. Go make a list of all the publications under his control and you will realize quickly y all these sites are utter shite. Look at the sun, news of the world, times, daily fail. WSJ was once worth reading till he took it over.

  21. rohan_19 says:

    rooney ain’t going nowhere.. also lewandowski to replace rooney??
    that’s like jon replacing the regulars on here. feckin abu cunt.

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