It is impossible to escape the feeling that Manchester United were denied a laudable victory against Real Madrid not for football reasons but the painstaking cost of an unjust refereeing decision on a gripping Champions League night at Old Trafford.
United took a deserved lead shortly after half-time through a Sergio Ramos own goal and had dominated this contest for the best part of an hour until Nani was dismissed after challenging Alvaro Arbeloa for a high ball. Within 13 minutes, Luka Modric and, as fate would inevitably have it, Cristiano Ronaldo claimed a lead for the visitors that had never looked likely.
The overriding sense is one of disappointment at a 3-2 aggregate defeat, but United should feel great pride at the way the team and supporters acquitted themselves. This should have been a night to remember, instead it is a little hard to stomach.
Sir Alex is certainly unafraid to make tough decisions when he thinks it is necessary and the omission of Wayne Rooney from his starting eleven was a big call. The Reds boss instead chose a midfield three comprising Michael Carrick’s metronome passing, Tom Cleverley’s youthful exuberance and the experience of Ryan Giggs, while ahead of them was a front three featuring Nani, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck.
The latter, Sir Alex said, would be tasked specifically with limiting the influence of Xabi Alonso, a key figure in Real’s possession play. Welbeck scored in the enthralling 1-1 draw in the Santiago Bernabeu, of course, but even the boon of an away goal didn’t alter the fact that the tie remained finely poised heading to Manchester.