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It was an epic night and, by the end, Manchester United might be emboldened enough to reflect they have made the first decisive move. Alex Ferguson’s team may have to be more ruthless in the second leg.sports Updated: Feb 15, 2013 01:04 IST
It was an epic night and, by the end, Manchester United might be emboldened enough to reflect they have made the first decisive move. Alex Ferguson’s team may have to be more ruthless in the second leg.
They will also need to think again when it comes to trying to muzzle Cristiano Ronaldo but this was still an encouraging night for the Premier League leaders and it is typical of how they played that they were so aggrieved at the final whistle.
The mob of players in red shirts who gathered around the referee, Felix Brych, to complain he had blown for full-time before they could take a corner were aghast because these were moments when they were threatening to win the match.
They were frustrated because they had passed up three wonderful chances to register one of the great results of Ferguson’s quarter of a century at the club.
Ferguson had promised they would play with ambition and in those final exchanges, when another team might have settled for a draw, they were still pressing forward in the old United traditions.
They had been subjected to some intense pressure from Jose Mourinho’s team. David de Gea put in the kind of performance that makes it clear why Ferguson will tolerate the goalkeeper’s occasional lapses and, with Ronaldo in this mood, the return leg will always have its dangers.
He almost won it with a dipping, swerving free-kick from 40 yards and his equaliser, 10 minutes after Danny Welbeck had opened the scoring, sets up an enthralling return leg.
The trick for United, once again, will be to balance their normal sense of adventure with strategic conservatism.
They had Phil Jones in midfield here to prove extra cover for Rafael da Silva against Ronaldo.
Wayne Rooney could be seen tracking back from the right side of attack. Ferguson, in other words, had three players under specific instructions to subdue their old superstar. Even then, Ronaldo was a brutal rival.
Once again, he demonstrated to the watching world that a superstar at his level is not fazed by smothering tactics. Ronaldo has a rare ability to find space and elude the most careful planning.
He managed to terrorise Ferguson’s team and still get a bearhug from his old manager. His goal was a classic.
Angel di María whipped his cross into the penalty area and, after that, it was a demonstration of Ronaldo’s prodigious ability to leap for crosses, like a centre-forward from another era.
“I blamed Patrice Evra at first,” Ferguson said. “But then I saw the replay and felt stupid. Watch it again. Ronaldo’s kneecap is the same height as Evra’s head. It’s phenomenal.”