In the moment of Real Madrid’s greatest need it was Cristiano Ronaldo who delivered a classic header just short of the half hour with a goal that was a throwback to those famous European nights. With the name of Carlos Santillana highlighted in Thursday mornings MARCA for the inventor of those hang time headers. It was timely score, as ten minutes earlier The Reds silenced the Santiago Bernabeu crowd when United’s Danny Wellbeck pounced on a comer. Although the spectacular leap by Ronaldo brought hopes for Jose Mourinho - who had his players filled with energy and purpose – his troops struggled in the early stages to open up the visitors' back four.
But it was a game that had a little bit of everything - except perhaps top quality attack from the home team - unable to deal with Ferguson's much used tactic in Europe - pulling all his players behind the ball. The deadlock came when Angel Di Maria’s pinpoint cross gave Cristiano Ronaldo that equaliser in the 29th minute in one of his few successful raids down the flanks. Throughout the Argentine winger combined well with Ozil’s endless running it was Benzema who too often was starved of chances as he loitered off Vidic’s shoulder.
As the game progressed United garnered more strength and withstood an early onslaught to reach half time level pegging. Worried no doubt that the second half would be more of the same. But it was not to be. The home side nearly fell another goal behind when Wellbeck escaped once again from the Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varanne defensive duo, after the Manchester United striker also left Arbeloa in his slipstream.
The signs were not good after that for the home fans and Madrid chosen the long ball option more often than not, often beautifully executed by Xabi Alonso, proving the most effective attacking route.
Yet it was two stunning chances from the quietest man on the field, Robin Van Persie, that should have ended the dreams for Mourinho of a 3rd Champions League title, when the first hit the cross bar, and he miscued the second one. Two very simple chances that are usually bread and butter for the Dutch striker.
Jose Mourinho then turned to Pepe when Xabi Alonso finally surrendered to his pre-match injury seeking the defender to edge out Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions leg tie in Madrid. With seven minutes still on the clock the Special One’s chosen weapon was a clear sign that Sir Alex Ferguson had won the battle on the night. Also holding a valuable away goal in a one all score line that makes the return trip to Old Trafford next week a tough battle. Even for the Special one.
The arrival of Ryan Giggs late on kept Madrid’s defence. With Alonso no longer closing down the middle Khedira was being stretched further leaving Rooney to start a few counter attacks as the 90 minutes loomed. On the night it was the away side that gained the ascendancy with the aristocrats of European football looking less and less convincing. By the time Higuain was switched for Benzema the effort from Cristiano Ronaldo had waned and his role became more intermittent.
But it was de Gea who won all the plaudits in the end. Proving one or two remarkable saves that ensured a split points decision. One of them a kung-Fu type action that would be hard to repeat were he asked at the Carrington training ground in the morning. A bitter sweet moment given the stick the former Atletico Madrid keeper was receiving from the infamous Ultra Madrid fans behind his goal in the first half. Just a pure reflexive action.
In the end De gea was the man of the match.