When the draw for the last 16 of the Champions league was made last December, there was one tie that left the world in anticipation for the round to begin. As soon as Real Madrid and Manchester United were drawn against each other, it was decided that one of these European giants would not be making it as far as the quarter final stage. After a 1-1 draw in Madrid on Wednesday evening, it is still unclear which club will be crashing out of the competition prematurely.
Real Madrid started the first leg at the Bernabeu as the brighter side, and David De Gea was forced into making a fantastic early save, pushing Fabio Coentrao’s effort onto the post. However, Danny Welbeck headed home a corner, to score a vital opening away goal and put Manchester United into the lead in the tie. Real responded by equalising within ten minutes, after Cristiano Ronaldo leapt higher than Partice Evra to head home an Angel di Maria cross from the left.
Manchester United defended well in the second half, with impressive defensive performances from Rio Ferdinand, Rafael and Phil Jones, and even Wayne Rooney was forced to sacrifice a more attacking role to give them an extra man in midfield. David de Gea made some more fine saves in the second half, including an extraordinary stop with his feet to again deny Coentrao. The English league leaders had opportunities to win the game themselves, when Robin van Persie had an effort tipped onto the bar by stand-in goalkeeper Diego Lopez, and then saw his weak effort cleared off the line by Xabi Alonso.
Both managers were coy about their chances of progressing to the next stage after the game. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that he would have taken a draw before the game, but refused to confirm that his side now held the advantage. When commenting on a change of tactics for the home leg, he said that ‘We have to look differently, as they are a fantastic counterattacking team’. His opposite number Jose Mourinho remained bullish after the result, saying that ‘It is still 50-50. My confidence has not dropped’.
Statistically, it would appear that history is not in Real Madrid’s favour. In 18 Champions League ties that have seen the first leg finish with a 1-1 scoreline, the home side in that game has only progressed to the next round on 4 occasions. Madrid have found themselves in this position 5 times in their history in European football, and have failed to qualify each time.
This season, Real have scored 22 times in 12 La Liga matches away from home, recording 5 wins and 5 losses this season, after some mixed form on the road. In the Champions League this season, they have scored in every away tie so far, scoring 4 at Ajax and once at Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.
At home, Manchester United have been dominant in the Premier League, winning 12 of their 13 matches at Old Trafford. They have conceded on 15 occasions in the league so far though. In the Champions League, a clean sheet against Galatasaray was followed by conceding 2 against Braga and once against CFR Cluj. Mourinho is hopeful about scoring an away goal in the second leg, believing that ‘We can definitely score at Old Trafford, many teams have done already this season’.
When the second leg is played in three weeks time, it will be interesting to see how each side approaches the game. Manchester United know that if they can keep a clean sheet, they will progress, but that Real Madrid possess enough attacking quality to create a goal out of nothing. Madrid must score if they have any chance of finding themselves in the quarter finals, but they cannot afford to leave themselves open at the back against a team that includes Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Perhaps Mourinho summed up the tie perfectly when he stated that ‘The team that scores the first goal will have a good chance’.