The atmosphere inside Old Trafford was electrifying prior to kick-off and a crescendo of cheers met the introduction of Giggs on his 1,000th senior appearance and the return of Ronaldo. The former United hero thumped his chest in heartfelt appreciation, and yet once the whistle was blown his first touch was roundly booed while an early free-kick, struck following that familiar pose, was blocked by his countryman Nani to great cheers.
United’s first in a flurry of corners arrived on 13 minutes after Fabio Coentrao prevented Nani’s cross from reaching Giggs at the far post. Two minutes later the Welshman’s outside-of-the-boot cross found van Persie and the Dutchman’s tame volley was blocked. Regardless, it lifted the crowd and marked an intent to attack. After 18 minutes, Welbeck and Nani combined to earn a third corner and fine footwork from Giggs claimed yet another. The Welshman’s centre was met by a soaring header from Nemanja Vidic which hit the post. From the rebound Welbeck’s shot was saved on the line by Diego Lopez, although van Persie was ruled offside.
Sir Alex had clearly sent his team out with the message, above all else, to be brave and to be positive. Welbeck set the tone and tempo, tearing around the pitch, breaking up play and starting attacks with some classy touches. Giggs joined in too. The 39-year-old performed with the knowhow of a player who has played this occasion a hundred times and the enthusiasm of someone tasting it for the very first.
Despite United more than edging the balance of play, Real reminded of their threat on 33 minutes when Gonzalo Higuain had the ball in the back of the net. It was rightly chalked off for a prior Sergio Ramos foul on van Persie and United’s riposte was to go straight up the other end; van Persie chested down Evra’s long ball and beat Raphael Varane on the turn