Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid: Controversy remembered not result

by Sam Peoples

nani-red-cardUsually, I do a five point analysis of the main talking points of a game but tonight is different. Tonight, refereeing decisions will dominate the headlines.

It is disappointing when the referee is the talking point after the game but it is impossible to ignore in this situation.

Nani was controversially sent off in the 55th minute for a high tackle on Arbeloa. It was Arbeloa’s poor first touch that knocked the ball into an open position for both players to attack the ball. Nani mistimed his attempt to get the ball and his high footed tackle saw him receive a straight red card from the referee.

A fair decision? Make your own mind up. I instantly thought of two other decisions that have happened in the past – both had different outcomes.

nani-red-card2

These two tackles show the polar opposites of refereeing mindsets. Scholes’ challenge on Zabaleta in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final was mistimed and dangerous and the red card was not argued by many.

De Jong’s wild kung-fu kick was the most blatant red card that football fans had seen during the 2010 World Cup final – yet he stayed on the pitch.

@Refreecuneyt, who has previously sent off Gary Gahill in the 2013 FIFA World Club Final and John Terry in the 2012 UEFA Champions League semi-final vs Barcelona, chose to send Nani off and the game changed because of it.

Prior to the red card, Manchester United were firmly on top.

Sir Alex Ferguson had seen his tactical choices absolutely vindicated. Ryan Giggs was playing like a man possessed, Nani was a permanent thorn in the side of Real Madrid and Danny Welbeck was nothing short of phenomenal – if only his finishing was equally as  good.

Until Nani got sent off, Real Madrid had not had a shot on target. It speaks volumes for how well we played on the night. We set up as the away team at home, a decision that saw many scratching heads before kick-off, but it was exactly the right thing to do.

Ronaldo was all but invisible until Nani got sent off and was restricted to long range efforts that led to nothing. Manchester United were a strong defensive unit and a counter attacking ethos was working like a well oiled machine.

It is such a shame that tonight has turned out how it has but that is the nature of knock-out football. As Jose Mourinho put in the post-match press conference, ‘the better team lost – that is football’.

We set up perfectly for tonight and played to our strengths well. We were impenetrable and Madrid had no answer until Nani’s dismissal opened up spaces all over the pitch.

As much as an exit from Europe hurts, European football merely a luxury. The prerogative this season has always been about getting our title back and tonight’s result hasn’t changed that. We were certainly the better team up until the dismissal but as red cards can do, it changed the game.

It was a shame that we couldn’t recover after that red card but it doesn’t take away from the fact that United gave their all tonight. The Champions League is a luxury that we will have to wait until next year to be part of once again. After three finals in four years between 2008 and 2011, a hiatus will balance out what has become common practice for United fans to enjoy.

Hearts and heads may be lost in the heat of the loss but minds will swiftly move on to the weekend’s showdown with Chelsea. The treble was only ever a dream in the distance which Madrid, and Ronaldo, have put to bed tonight. The onus can now move to reclaiming our domestic crown and re-affirming our place as England’s finest.