Game in a Sentence
The hype fails to disappoint as Gus Johnson demonstrates his bona fides while some sort of football match between two pretty good teams was going on.
- Sometimes the hype seamlessly interweaves into reality, and this was one such an instance. Not a classic, but an all around great game of football. Individual skill, competitive balance, adventure in attack, a great round of 16 first leg.
- Manchester United started in a 4-2-3-1. Few surprises in the line-up, with Rooney out wide on the left, taking on a fairly positive defensive role against his opposite Cristiano Ronaldo. Kagawa was a little ineffective in the whole, Jones and Carrick paired up in front of a back four with Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra.
- Meanwhile Real Madrid also put out a *yawn* 4-2-3-1, with Benzema up front, who was fairly quiet in the first half. Ronaldo was rampant on the left hand side, and Di Maria was the centre of a lot of creative movement and cued up Ronaldo’s goal in the 30th minute. Xabi Alonso and Khedira paired up in front of Coentrao, Ramos, Varane and Arbeloa.
- As expected, Real Madrid were dominant, eager to exploit the space on the flanks to send some dangerous crosses in, in between various players cutting inside, not least Ronaldo. They played a high defensive line, although it was disciplined enough that Real were rarely caught on the break. Coentrao almost scored within the first ten minutes, but De Gea (more on him later) invisibly finger-tipped it to safety.
- United meanwhile alternated between sending an early over the top ball from deep on the flanks (usually the right) to Danny Welbeck, who was very much a classic centre-forward without the muscularity, but certainly the height. He was at the centre of a most of United’s attacks, including the set-piece corner in which he headed in Rooney’s cross in the 20th minute. He was eager to chase over-the-top passes again and again.
- That said, Varane was very effective at playing the last man when he needed to.
- But really, this is all window dressing. Because when future generations discuss this game, it will be because it was the first major European fixture called by Gus Johnson. And? He was splendid. Kept the game at a simmer, imported the best of American game commentary, and maintained appropriate cadences with no discernible gaffes (outside of saying the words “Santiago Bernebeu” about 400 times.
- Oezil is a bloody maniac. Incredible control, particularly in the second half. And Rooney seemed to play deeper and deeper. Fancies himself a modern day deep-lying playmaker, I guess? United in general played deeper, likely content to squeak out the 1-1 result. Phil Jones in particularly was kind of brutal defending on occasion. As in, he acted like a brute.
- De Gea I think is a lot better than a lot of us realize. So many saves. Shots on target against United was around seven but the 80th minute mark.
- As the second half progressed, United were content to sit deep, and were very good at containing any attacking movement in their own box. That and De Gea was outstanding. Did I write that? I did. Still, United were willing to go forward when the opportunity presented itself. Robin Van Persie miss-kicked on an essentially open net after hitting the bar in the 71st minute and Giggs missed a pretty good chance in the 81st, taking some slow touches because he’s an old man, a careful old man who’s seen things in his life, you know?
- There were some chances on both ends at the dying stages of extra time, both from Ronaldo and Robin van Persie. And then referee Felix Brych blew the whistle before United could take their final corner, which upset everyone.
- Surely this is as good a result as Sir Alex could have hoped for. Very well-poised for a victory at Old Trafford.
1. De Gea
2. Di Maria