Since the draw was made for the second round of the Champions League, one tie in particular has stood out. Two of the most successful teams in world, brought together so early on in the competition. Some might say that it’s a shame that Real Madrid and Manchester United have to play each other at the first knockout stage of the competition, but what a brilliant spectacle it is. Arguably the two best managers in the world, José Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, going head-to-head, and Cristiano Ronaldo coming up against his former team for the first time since his stunning £80million move to the Bernabeu in 2009.
The game was producing surprises before it had even kicked off via the team news. For Madrid, French youngster Raphael Varane was preferred in defence to Pepe, and new loan signing Diego Lopez started in goal in place of the injured Iker Casillas. For the away side, there were four changes from the team that beat Everton so comfortably at the weekend; Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Rio Ferdinand replacing Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Nemanja Vidic.
Many people were predicting Madrid to dominate proceedings and the first 15 minutes showed why. Within three minutes, Real had three chances to take an early lead; Di Maria firing narrowly wide, De Gea making a miraculous save from Fábio Coentrão which he tipped onto the post, and Sergio Ramos heading over from a free-kick.
However, it was United that went 1-0 ahead in the 20th minute. Danny Welbeck was on hand to brilliantly head home from an inswinging Rooney corner, sending the travelling supporters into pandemonium.
Madrid responded well though and De Gea was forced into another save, this time from Di Maria. They were rewarded for their efforts after more pressure, with Di Maria crossing for Cristiano Ronaldo who rose above Evra and seemed to hang in the air for an eternity and powered a sublime header past De Gea. This was followed by muted celebrations from the Portuguese star, out of respect for his former team.
There was a good chance for each team to take the lead before the interval. The goalscorer Welbeck almost had a second but was thwarted at the near post by a good save from Diego Lopez and Mesut Özil had a shot saved by David De Gea, who was in inspired form. Despite these opportunities, the sides remained level at the break.
After half-time, Madrid began to dominate the game. The Argentine Di Maria again came close twice in quick succession, denied once by another good save from De Gea, and moments later narrowly missing a long-range effort. The Spaniard was on hand to save United again soon after, making a fantastic acrobatic save from Coentrão at his near post.
Despite all of Real’s dominance, it was United who came the closest to taking the lead in the second half, which would’ve got them a crucial second away goal. Van Persie was played through, and struck a beautiful shot, which Lopez did brilliantly to turn onto the crossbar. United kept possession though, and Carrick headed over the defence and again found Van Persie, who completely failed to connect with his volley, which allowed Xabi Alonso to scramble back and clear the ball off the line.
Again Madrid came back and dominated again, with De Gea once more proving that he is one of the best shot-stoppers in the world, pulling off a fine save from a deflected Khedira volley. There was still time for Ronaldo to try his hand at a long-range free-kick, which had De Gea beaten, but landed it onto the roof of the net.
There was controversy late on, though. After Lopez made a great save to deny Van Persie a late winner, the referee called time on the game without letting United take the resulting corner, which angered the players, but a draw at the Bernabeu is a fantastic result, leaving the tie finely balanced ahead of the return leg at Old Trafford.
Real Madrid have only won 1 of 12 ties in which they have failed to win the first leg at home; which was against Manchester United. Will history repeat itself?