The Serbian took a punch to the face from Lopez. He has experienced worse but in a way it neatly framed the first half: United’s intent to attack and the threat that Real might strike a counter blow.
Sir Alex’s half-time concern was not the manner of his side’s performance - far from it - but a worry that of the many chances created United hadn’t taken them. It took three minutes of the second half for his men to dispel those fears. Welbeck and then van Persie had shots blocked but when Nani collected the loose ball and fizzed it into the box, Welbeck’s slight touch of the ball deceived Ramos, who inadvertently turned it into the net.
Things were going so well. Then United’s plans were thrown into disarray on 56 minutes when Nani was unjustly sent off by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir; after an honest attempt to control a high ball he caught Arbeloa. The consternation inside Old Trafford was palpable but the decision was irreversible. The only option was to unite in adversity and the decibel levels at Old Trafford were instantly cranked up, with Sir Alex orchestrating the fans to try and haul the team over the line. From being confidently in control on the front foot, it was now backs to the wall.
After 64 minutes van Persie cracked a shot goalwards that Lopez saved, but it was only a brief reprieve from the siege on United’s goal and two minutes later a long-range effort from substitute Luka Modric flew in off David De Gea’s left post. And like a dagger to the heart, Madrid’s second arrived three minutes later at the feet of Ronaldo, who tapped home at the far post.
It is never the United way to give in, but with an away goal advantage handed to Real two were now required for the Reds to progress. It looked like a mountainous task, yet Rooney entered the fray in place of