Advantage United As Youngsters Come Of Age At The Bernabeu.

   on February 14 2013 12:52 PM
It's not over, not by a long shot. It is, however, a very good start. Manchester United are half-way to the Champions League Quarter Final after their heroic performance at the Bernabeu last night against Real Madrid. The game finished 1-1, United coming up with a vital away goal in a game which was as frantic and fascinating as we all hoped it would be. The hype surrounding this game was extraordinary, mainly due to Cristiano Ronaldo playing against the Club that had sold him to Real Madrid for a world record fee of £80 million ($124.9m) for the first time. Ronaldo often speaks of his admiration for his former club, the fans and the manager and even teases the United fans with the prospect that one day he could possibly return. Ronaldo has thrived since moving to Spain to become arguably the most complete player in the World. There is no dispute that Lionel Messi and himself are the two best in the World currently. Could he put his emotions to one side and come up with the performances to guide Madrid into the Quarter-Finals. There was also the Managers. On one side Jose Mourinho, the enigmatic Real Madrid Manager, who has found it hard to motivate his team of Superstars this season. They are 12 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and the Madrid press, as always, are after blood. This time it's Mourinho. He hasn't done himself any favours, he has become moody and disinterested during press conferences. Add to that his situation with Club Captain Iker Casillas, whom he made a scapegoat for Madrid's poor form that angered the fans and media alike, and it's unlikely that Mourinho will be in Madrid next season. Some even say a defeat against United over 2 legs would spell the end for him. Then there is Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary United manager, who Mourinho has been tipped to take over from when Ferguson does call it a day. United didn't make the knockout stages last year, with the title going over to Manchester City too this was one of the most disappointing seasons during Ferguson's reign as Manager. He has spoke about how much last season is driving his players on this season. Their effort and ruthlessness has shown notable improvement as they are currently 12 points ahead of City and have all but wrapped up the League. They are also still in the F.A Cup and have a favourable home draw to make it to the 6th round. This, however, is the acid test for Ferguson, pitting his wits once more against the only Manager in recent history that can compete with him in terms of trophies. Beat Madrid and the Treble could become a distinct possibility. Both teams fielded attacking line-ups, Madrid opting for Karim Benzema to lead the line in place of Gonzalo Higuain. United were without Nemanja Vidic, the imposing Centre Half feeling the effects of Sunday's game against Everton and was considered too much of a risk. Ferguson put his faith in his young performers to do a job in this game. Faith that was more than rewarded. David De Gea has been the subject of much criticism this year. Every mistake has been magnified and harshly criticised by the British media. Returning to his home of Madrid, United having signed him from Real's Madrid rivals Athletico, De Gea provided Ferguson and everybody watching with the sort of performance that had people eating their words. De Gea was sensational, his save in the first five minutes from Fabio Coentrao was world class. This set the tone for De Gea's performance for the entire game. Looking assured and confident, he dealt with everything Madrid threw at him. United were under pressure for large parts of this game, which was to be expected. De Gea's unorthodox save from Coentrao in the second half typified his performance. With the back-post effort bouncing awkwardly, De Gea stayed composed and cleared off the line with his right foot. This performance will have done De Gea the world of good and it should silence the critics for good. De Gea was just one of the heroes on the night for United. Another being Danny Welbeck, who was a surprise selection in Ferguson's line-up. Another bold move that proved to be a masterstroke. Welbeck worked harder than anyone on the pitch, running himself into the ground before cramp got the better of him and he was replaced after 75 minutes. Welbeck was also responsible for the crucial away goal. Welbeck beat Ramos and headed into the corner from Rooney's delivery to send the 5000 travelling United support into raptures. He provided a useful outlet throughout the game and he could have had another, missing from point blank range after he'd got to Van Persie's ball ahead of Diego Lopez. He might not be first choice at Old Trafford but Welbeck demonstrated why he is held in such high regard by everyone at United. Phil Jones was another controversial selection for United. The 20 year-old had played in Central Midfield on Sunday against Everton and Ferguson saw enough in that display to warrant Jones in this lineup. Jones struggled in the early going while he was adjusting to the pace of the game. This is undoubtedly the biggest game of Jones' young career and it would have been easy for him to be overawed by the occasion. This turned out to be the opposite, Jones grew into the game and got to grips with following Ronaldo and Di Maria. His block on Ronaldo at the death could yet be a turning point in this tie. He gave a performance of maturity beyond his years. When you consider his natural position is Centre Half it shows the faith Ferguson has in him. Jones will be a huge part of this United setup for the next ten years and possibly longer. Jonny Evans has been a revelation this season. With Rio Ferdinand and Vidic no longer counted on to play the majority of games due to injury, Evans has emerged as the most reliable Centre Half at United. Evans has grown in confidence this year and gave another assured performance in this game. He marked Benzema out of the game in the first half and his replacement, Higuain, didn't fair much better. He is another that has come in for criticism over his time at United and he is now proving his doubters wrong. Do you sense a pattern emerging here? Ferguson knows it takes time for these players to blend into the squad. People forget it didn't happen overnight for the golden generation of Beckham, Scholes etc, they had to rely on their experienced players to guide them. Much like Ferdinand, Giggs et al are doing now. Evans has been the main beneficiary of Ferdinand's experience and United will be in good hands when Rio calls time on his career. Just how this game finished 1-1 is anybody's guess. There were chances galore at both ends. Ronaldo was, of course, the main danger. He caused United endless problems with his pace, power and intelligence. Ronaldo has evolved from the talented kid United signed from Sporting Lisbon into one of the worlds best. There was no way Ronaldo was going to be denied and it was his header that delivered the equaliser. A header that was simply sublime. With a leap that LeBron James would have been proud of, he guided the ball into the corner to the delight of the Madrid fans. Ronaldo showed United a great deal of respect by not celebrating the goal, seemingly apologetic for scoring against the team that elevated him into the limelight. Try as he might, he could not add to his tally, going close with a free kick and if not for Jones' intervention he would have added to his goal. It will no doubt be an emotional return to Manchester for Ronaldo and should get a warm reception from the home fans. Whether they will be cheering him when the game is over remains to be seen. It could have been much worse for Madrid. First it was Van Persie who missed a guilt edge chance. The ball was looped over to him six yards out, the entire Madrid back line screaming for offside. Van Persie didn't get enough purchase on his effort and it was an agonising wait before Xabi Alonso cleared off the line. It was one of those nights for Van Persie, nothing seemed to fall for him on this night. Make no mistake though, this man is still the key to United's chances in the second leg and Mourinho will need to devise a gameplan to keep him quiet for the second leg. Then it was Ryan Giggs who squandered an opportunity to give United the lead. The ball fell kindly to him in the area and for some reason unbeknown to everyone watching he decided against shooting from 8 yards out and took a touch instead. In doing so, the chance was gone almost as soon as it had arrived. Giggs deserved credit though, coming off the bench to calm things down and use his experience during the latter stages of the game to guarantee United went into the second leg with the advantage. So, a draw seemed a fair result. Madrid will feel they had the chances to win the game. United rode their luck at times, but with exceptional performances from their youngsters they can go into the second leg with the slightest of advantages. And if history has taught us anything, that's all they need. Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_