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United Knocked Out But With Plenty Still Left to Play for This Season

United Knocked Out But With Plenty Still Left to Play for This Season
By Cian Tracey Updated

It says a lot for how tactically astute United were when it took a controversial decision from the referee to tip the balance of the tie in Real Madrid's favour.

A lot was made of Ferguson's decision not to invest in a central midfielder last summer after his side were largely out played by the top European sides in recent years. For 146 minutes of play against arguably the second best midfield in Europe, United controlled the tie.

Ferguson has always maintained that Michael Carrick was a player who he saw fit to control his midfield and although he has had his critics, Carrick has been outstanding for United this season. Carrick continues to draw unfair criticism but time after time, he proves that he is an excellent defensive midfielder.

Tom Cleverly had a fine game at Old Trafford last night and has benefitted greatly from playing alongside Carrick who controls and dictates the tempo of United's play. His tenacity when coming up against the likes of Ozil and Di Maria was the mark of a player who has a long and bright future ahead of him at Old Trafford.

There is no question that the game changed with the sending off of Nani, whether or not it was justified is an entirely different matter. The introduction of Luka Modric was pivotal for Jose Mourinho's side but had United still had eleven players on the pitch, it is difficult to see how the Croatian would have been given so much time and space in and around the United penalty area.

Credit to Real Madrid, as they punished United with two outstanding goals. The first, a piece of individual brilliance from Modric, who unleashed a vicious swerving shot passed the hapless De Gea. Again, it is worth pointing out that he would never have been given the time to do that, had United had their full compliment.

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The fact that Madrid were forced into harmless long range shots in the first half, illustrated how United edged the midfield battle.

The killer blow came courtesy of a former Old Trafford favourite as Ronaldo tapped home from Higuain's cross. The back heel from Ozil in the build up to that goal went unmentioned by many, but it was truly world class.

United's tactics and structure ultimately went out the window for a ten minute spell that cost them their place in the competition.

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United dominated the final quarter of an hour and but for some heroics from Diego Lopez, could have actually won the game. Danny Welbeck was one of United's best players over the two legs and is fast growing his reputation as a big game player. Welbeck's seemingly never ending engine nullified Xabi Alonso while providing United with an outlet. He did however miss a guilt edged chance when Vidic's first half header came crashing back off the post. It is this lack of a killer instinct that is denying Welbeck becoming a really brilliant player. If he was to add goals to his game, Welbeck is another with a bright future at United.

Ferguson opted to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench and instead went with Nani. Plenty of eyebrows were raised before the game but once again, Ferguson got his tactics spot on. What this means for Rooney's United future remains to be seen but it doesn't bode well for a player who was seemingly born for European nights of this magnitude. Rooney has become a victim of his versatility as it continues to count against him. In Madrid he was again asked to play out wide where he was given a far more defensive role, which on occasions, he failed to do.

The loss of Phil Jones wasn't as great as many predicted as a 39 year-old (Ryan Giggs) making his 1,000th appearance quelled the attacking threat of Ronaldo and Coentrao throughout.

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United's cause wasn't helped by the fact that van Persie did not appear to be match fit. The Dutchman was rather laboured in his movements all night and struggled to make any real impact on the game. Such has been his brilliance this season, van Persie has played the majority of United's games. Having picked up a knock against QPR two weeks ago, he didn't quite look to have shaken it off and as a result lacked that cutting edge.

Jose Mourinho's comments after the game summed up what the neutral saw over the two legs; "Independent of the decision, the best team lost. We didn't deserve to win but football is like this. I doubt that 11 v 11 we win the match."

That will come as little consolation to Ferguson or his players but they must pick themselves up for an FA Cup Quarter final with Chelsea on Sunday.

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A win at the weekend would surely lift some of the doom and gloom surrounding Old Trafford but last night's defeat will hurt for quite some time.

It is night's like that however that fuel Ferguson's desire for success. That drive will now be fully focused on United winning the double this season. And that would be quite an achievement.

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