Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid: Forget The Red Card, Negative United Deserved To Lose

   on March 05 2013 7:44 PM

Manchester United weren't punished by the surprising red card shown to Nani in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League encounter with Real Madrid. Instead the Red Devils paid the price for their own negative tactics and were deservedly eliminated.

Yes the game turned on Nani's controversial dismissal. However, it was Madrid who were the more consistent attacking force over the course of the tie. That's because United chose to rely on a dour and defensive team structure.

It was epitomised by their second leg team selection. Wayne Rooney was the most obvious omission and that sent a clear message about how United were approaching the game.

Rooney was sacrificed so the ageing Ryan Giggs could man mark Los Blancos ace Cristiano Ronaldo. His absence from the team also allowed Danny Welbeck to harass Madrid schemer Xabi Alonso.

That a striker was being used primarily for defensive attributes, summed up United's negative tactics. That's just the point, it's easier to negate than create and that's the convenient, cynical path United chose.

It meant they limited their own attacking options at home, in a major Champions League tie. Despite the advantage of an away goal, there was no credible reason for United to leave their best player on the bench and Rooney is easily their best player.

United could have even opted for cat-quick poacher Javier Hernandez alongside Robin van Persie. The Mexican hotshot could have used his pace to press Madrid's back four and prevent them from playing out from defence.

More importantly a more potent and direct strike force would have forced Madrid onto the defensive. This would have made it more difficult for them to seek the two goals they needed to progress.

Instead United took refuge behind phrases like "gameplan" and "tactics." These are safe buzzwords that praise a team for playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.

No matter how aggrieved United feel about being reduced to 10 men when they were 1-0 ahead, it was Madrid who went for the win in both legs. They dominated the game in the Bernabeau back in mid-February. There certainly wasn't much sophisticated about how defensive a team with United's attacking pedigree played that night.

Only near double figures in saves from goalkeeper David De Gea prevented the Red Devils from being overrun in the Spanish capital. That certainly refutes any United claims about how many times deputy stopper Diego Lopez saved Los Blancos at Old Trafford.

Yet in both games it was Madrid who played the attacking football. United pounced from a set-piece in Madrid and went ahead in Manchester, courtesy of a scrappy own goal.

Yes they all count, but it wasn't as if Sir Alex Ferguson's team dissected Madrid, with expansive, creative flair. Contrast that with the goals that sealed Madrid's progression and lit up the Theatre of Dreams.

The first was from substitute Luka Modric. The tricky playmaker executed a smart turn and thundered in a forceful and accurate shot from outside the area. It was a goal worthy of such a marquee European Cup encounter.

The winner was precisely and skilfully crafted. Gonzalo Higuain played a smooth exchange with Mesut Ozil, who returned the Argentine's initial pass with a smart back-heel flick.

From there Higuain's dangerous ball across goal was turned in adeptly by Ronaldo and Real had the goals they needed. Even before they went in front, Madrid were denied a good goal thanks to a soft foul given against Sergio Ramos.

Later they were denied a penalty after a clear handball by Rafael da Silva. After Ronaldo scored, Kaka hit the post. Ronaldo was then twice denied by De Gea in one-on-one situations.

So United shouldn't feel too hard done by. Madrid were on the attack for the majority of this tie, while United retreated to conservative formations and counterattacking. Thankfully, fortune ultimately favoured the bold, justifying the luck of that perhaps harsh red card.

Consider the possession stats in both games. In the first leg, Madrid hogged the ball for 60% of the match, according to Sky Sports. That included 65% possession in the second half alone.

At Old Trafford, Madrid recorded 62.9% possession, including 64 in each half. Stats don't always tell the whole story, but in this case they at least tell a crucial part of the narrative between Madrid and United.

In a tie fit to be adorned by stellar attacking play, United paid a just price for their negative plotting.