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.
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