Balance tips in United’s favour

Real Madrid 1 Manchester United 1
Danny Welbeck’s first-half header ensured Manchester United left the Bernabeu with a precious away goal from a thrilling Champions League encounter with Real Madrid last night.

But United old boy Cristiano Ronaldo also left his mark on the last 16 tie with a brilliant equalising header, which he refused to celebrate in recognition of his time at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo also came close with a dipping 40-yard free-kick, whilst David de Gea needed to produce excellent saves to twice deny Fabio Coentrao and the outstanding Mesut Ozil.

There was certainly enough in Real’s performance to suggest United would be unwise to claim they now hold a decisive advantage in this two-legged encounter, which will be settled at Old Trafford on March 5, even if Robin van Persie wasted a golden opportunity to seal victory on the night.

United boss Alex Ferguson had promised the game would not finish goalless and, within five minutes, it became obvious why.

With their bewildering movement, Real had the capacity to cut their opponents’ defence to shreds. Rafael in particular had a torrid time as Ronaldo roamed the visitors’ defence, with Ozil providing impressive support.

Angel Di Maria cut inside from his right-wing station and flashed a shot wide before de Gea brilliantly denied Coentrao with a fingertip save to push the full-back’s effort onto the post.

With van Persie also picking up a needless booking when he shoved his hand into Sergio Ramos’ face, it was shaping up into one of those nastily uncomfortable European nights — exactly the type United suffered on their last visit to this impressive arena a decade ago.

This Real Madrid are not unbeatable though, as their current status as Spain’s third best team suggests. And on their first meaningful attack, United got their noses in front.

How simple it was, too, as Welbeck shrugged off Ramos’ attentions, them climbed to turn home Wayne Rooney’s corner from six yards.

The pity for United was that their lead lasted just 10 minutes.

That Ronaldo should get the equaliser was no shock at all given his tally of 182 goals in 179 games for the Spanish giants prior to last night. The way he hung above Patrice Evra before heading Di Maria’s cross past de Gea was reminiscent of the Portugal superstar’s goal for United in the 2008 final.

His reaction was subdued. There was no celebration even though he was mobbed by ecstatic team-mates.

The second period took a bit of time to get going. However, Di Maria’s shot that de Gea had given up as it whistled wide and Raphael Varane’s tangle with Evra that sent the Frenchman flying and had Ferguson off his feet waiting for a free-kick and red card that never came ratcheted it up a notch.

And United had de Gea to thank for not falling behind.

He was the only one alive to the danger as Coentrao crept in at the far post to meet Sami Khedira’s deep cross, instinctively kicking the ball away from his goal-line.

It looked like van Persie’s moment had arrived 15 minutes from time though when, after Lopez had touched his effort onto a post, the Dutchman found himself on his own inside the box but fluffed his shot, allowing Xabi Alonso to clear off the line.

Khedira nearly made United pay with a snap-shot that brought yet another fine stop out of de Gea before Ronaldo’s audacious 40-yard free-kick dipped onto the roof of United’s net.

It was the visitors who had the last word, though, as van Persie brought a fingertip save out of Lopez.

Subs for Real Madrid: Higuain for Benzema 60, Modric for Di Maria 75, Pepe for Alonso 83.

Subs for Man United: Giggs for Kagawa 64, Valencia for Welbeck 73, Anderson for Rooney 84.

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