1. The sending off.
Let’s get this out of the way then. Nani and United were extremely unfortunate with the decision that ultimately changed the game in Real Madrid’s favour last night. There was obviously no intent from the Portuguese mincer and the accidental clash looked worse than it probably was. It fell somewhere in that notorious grey area of deciding whether it was one man running into another’s attempt at controlling a ball or if it was a savage and calculated studs up karate kick. As this excellent article from the chaps at F365 point out, if you run through this by the letter of the law you’re likely to come out feeling rather unsatisfied.
Nani was not sent off for ‘Violent Conduct’ (an act that takes place when not contesting the ball) and therefore must have been dismissed for ‘Serious Foul Play’.
According to FIFA’s rulebook -
‘A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.
A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.’
The second line is what referee Cuneyt Cakir has used tocome to his conclusion and if we're getting pernickety with the letter of the law, he is justified.
There are plenty of problems with the law/decision, (see the F365 article for a couple of excellent examples and an explanation of where the law falls down), but in a desperate bid to find a new/different angle on this story I’ll raise the nit picking issue that Nani wasn’t making actually ‘tackle’ as the law states. His foot was raised in an act of control which when he started, he had no idea Arbeloa was coming in from behind him and his leap was seemingly of no danger to anyone.
Although Nani never had control of the ball, surely it was Arbeloa who actually made the challenge? Is it fair to be sent off a dangerous ‘tackle’ when to all your best knowledge you’re not making a tackle at all? The obvious gag here being that it must be harsh as there’s not a chance in hell Nani would knowingly go into a 50/50 challenge. Guffaw.
It ruined the game as a legitimate contest which was, sadly for us viewers, balanced perfectly at the time and had ‘exciting extra time’ written all over it. So yeah. Pretty harsh, but technically (just about?) justifiable by the letter of the law. As always, the law’s an ass etc.
That said Rafael blocked a goal bound ball with his arm in the second half so swings and roundabouts then eh?
Not sure if you’ve seen them but I’ve been pretty amused by the English club conspiracy theories being thrown about after a couple of keyboard monkeys clocked that it was Cakir who gave JT his very much deserved red card at the Nou Camp last season as well. On a similar theme, those getting their knickers in a twist at the fact that Cakir’s Twitter account only follows two non Turkish sides, Barca and Real, it’s a fake. Alas!
So are we all off to lob rocks through Cakir's windows? Or something? I dunno anymore. Lets wait to see what xenophobic acts the red tops tell us to do.
2. Mind you; if you’re gunna lose a game…
… it might as well be to two goals like that. Both were sumptuous as Real turned the screw in the final half an hour. Modric’s opener was sublime as he shifted the ball past the onrushing Carrick before finding the one spot De Gea couldn’t reach, fizzing the ball in off the inside of the post from 20 yards. Bask in its glory below.
The second goal was more of a team effort but just as impressive as Modric, Higuain and Özil combined to devastating effect. Özil’s backheel lit the move up and Higuain delivered a superb ball across the box that Ronaldo guided home expertly from a tight angle. It was quality stuff and proof of just how ruthless this Real side can be once they smell blood.
Despite their generally miserable league form this term, the last week has seen them beat Barcelona home and away and come away from Old Trafford with a victory. Real must be seen as favourites for the title, regardless of whether Barcelona manage to dig themselves out of a hole against AC Milan next week.
3. The game before the sending off.
Prior to the sending off United had equipped themselves pretty well and their counter attacking game plan was working well. Nani and Welbeck had been picked over Rooney to break onto long balls in wide areas with pace – an effective tactic based on Real’s own - whilst Giggs got the nod to offer Rafael a hand with Ronaldo. I was initially highly skeptical of this move, but it proved a wise one as Giggs defied his years and put in a huge performance - he was tireless without the ball and offered some real quality with it. Real bossed possession, as you would expect, but David De Gea wasn’t called upon for any of the heroics we saw at the Bernabeu whilst United had several good chances, notably Vidic’s header and Welbeck’s fluffed follow up.
Mourinho was effusive in his praise for United following the game stating, ‘The best team lost. We didn't play well, we didn't deserve to win.’
How genuine this belief was remains to be seen, but The Special One doesn’t do humility very often. Either he’s softening up the United faithful in preparation for when decides he fancies a pop at the Old Trafford hot seat or he recognised that until the referee’s intervention United looked the more likely to go through. What do you think?
Rewinding a couple of weeks (cue smug ‘told you so’), regardless of the red card, United have paid for not putting away the handful of cracking chances they were gifted at the end of the first leg. Here’s what I wrote after the first leg about all that.
4. Fergie sign him up!
Oh the irony! Ronaldo getting the winner despite having, by his standards, a vey quiet game was more ‘meant to be’ than Simba and Nala in the Lion King. Before all that though, Luka Modric, the man Fergie refused to shell out top dollar for in the summer came on and proved the difference.
Real Madrid did pay the (considerable) sum being asked and as a result had a world class player who could come on and change things for them. United decided to keep their money and pu their faith in Tom Cleverly. It could well be an inspired choice as he’s turning into a fine player, but for me his talents are not comparable to those of the Croat magician.
Is that sensible fiscal management on a deal that didn’t quite add up from United or further evidence that they no longer compete with football’s elite on a financial level?
5. Danny Welbeck: What will become of you?
What to make of the lad? Is he destined to be United’s Saloman Kalou? Or a sprightlier Dirk Kuyt? So much of his game looks good and you can see glimpses of a cracking forward in him. Strong and tall, pacey, great in the air with a superb work rate and good link up game - he’s got so many of the ingredients that could see him go far in the game. The teeth gnasher for United fans is his lack of finesse in front of goal. The England striker had 6 chances last night and, save for one great stop by Diego Lopez, did not make the most of them. Only two were on target and his sluggish response in the six yard box saw him plant United’s best chance in the one place where he wouldn’t score - Lopez’s crotch.
Is he good enough to play up front for United? Should he concentrate on developing a top drawer wide game? Is he really the best England ‘striker’ we have after Rooney and Defoe?
These are all questions beyond my earthly means and perhaps more suitable for the House of Lords or the Jedi council. I think it’s fair to say Welbeck will continue to split opinion in the Stretford End for a few years yet.
5. Roy Keane – A deeply furious man.
Who does the livid legend hate more? Fergie, Nani, Adrian Chiles, himself? Who knows, but he was certainly not mincing any words last night. I did enjoy Keane castigating players for 'giving the referee the option to send them off', following a career of shameless, pre-meditated assaults made in the name of football. Don't go changing Roy.
Where are you watching the rest of this week's footy madness? We've got D.Beck's lovely face getting a run out for PSG against Valencia tonight before Spurs, Newcastle and Chelsea continue their European adventures on Thursday. Find your nearest pub showing all those games through the hyperlinks.