If Real Madrid’s clash with Manchester United was a job interview for Jose Mourinho as he eyes up the hot seat at Old Trafford then the current incumbent, Sir Alex Ferguson, gave the Portuguese a master class in just what is expected of a United boss as the Red Devils held Los Blancos to a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
In a game in which Real largely dominated, Manchester United struck first against the run of play, with a floated corner from Wayne Rooney reaching Danny Welbeck, who broke free of his marker, Sergio Ramos, far too easily before rising to head the ball past Diego Lopez and into the back of the net to give the visitors the lead after twenty minutes.
It didn’t take long for Real Madrid to strike back, however, with another header offering up the second goal of the game as Cristiano Ronaldo, playing his first game against United since leaving the North West in the summer of 2009, rose high above the helpless Patrice Evra to bring the home side level with half an hour of the game played.
The away goal leaves Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the driving seat going into the return leg at Old Trafford, with the Reds knowing full well that should they be able to stop Real Madrid scoring, and that will be no easy task, then they will advance through to the final eight of Europe’s top competition at the expense of its most coveted side.
United’s ability to subdue Madrid at Old Trafford will depend considerably on Phil Jones’ ability to carry on from where he left off at the Bernabeu. The England international put in an assured performance in the middle of the park, keeping close tabs on Ronaldo and breaking up the play well as Madrid tried to break quickly.
Ferguson will know full well that he has to offer more support to Rafael, too, with the young right-back picking up a yellow card as he struggled to handle the interchanging attacking trio of Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil, the three players who have the best chance of getting the all important goal which could edge Mourinho’s side past United.
At the other end of the pitch Danny Welbeck will hope to put in a similar performance to what he did in the Spanish capital, should he be afforded a place in the starting line-up, whilst the team as a whole, in the more comfortable surroundings of Old Trafford, will want to offer more time and space to star striker Robin Van Persie, who was too often isolated in the first-leg.
Mourinho though will be confident his side can see off Manchester United in the second-leg. Madrid largely dominated the play in the opening game and Rafael and Evra looked shaky as Real’s plethora of attacking options, notably as Ozil, Ronaldo, Di Maria and Khedira, pushed high up the pitch looking to work an opening.
Even left-back Fabio Coentrao managed to cause United’s back line more than its fair share of problems, with the Portuguese twice forcing saves out of David De Gea, who put in a stellar performance between the sticks for the English side despite facing heavy criticisms in recent weeks after a handful of suspect outings.
Madrid put in a fairly solid defensive performance, too, offering United only a handful of chances, including two excellent opportunities for Van Persie in the second period, and the Spanish champions back four will be further bolstered going into the fixture at Old Trafford as Pepe, who came on as a late substitute, should be fit enough to start.
If the first fixture between these two giants of European football was a hard one to predict, then the return fixture in Manchester is equally, if not more unpredictable, as the ‘frenemies’ as they have been dubbed, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, once again try and outsmart the other.