Real Madrid v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Real Madrid 1, Manchester United 1

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When Alex Ferguson’s starting XI was announced, many assumed Manchester United was trying to outgun Real Madrid. A lineup featuring all of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck would certainly attack, it was thought. It was also destined to leave United too exposed to a Merengues attack that would take them apart. If points were awarded before kickoff, El Real would have claimed all three.

But while United proved potent throughout the match, the team Ferguson selected were ultimately capable of playing exactly as many expected. In the pre-XI buildup, most assumed Manchester United would play cautiously and be content to leave the Santiago Bernabeu within striking distance of their opponents. Thanks to an early goal from Danny Welback and some standout goalkeeping from former Atlético Madrid netminder David de Gea, the Red Devils are closer than mere striking distance. Taking a 1-1 result out of the Bernabeu, United has an away goals lead ahead of March 5’s second leg.

The result leaves both teams reason to be encouraged. For Real Madrid, they can reasonably feel they were the better team, giving a performance that would win on most nights. The success they had down the flanks — Cristiano Ronaldo on Rafael and Angel Di Maria against Patrice Evra — is something that can be replicated in Manchester. The Red Devils have less reason to believe all of Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and de Gea will meet today’s high standards.

But United have reason to think they can win even if their defense doesn’t replicate Wednesday’s performance. Today’s goal was containment, yet they still were able to generate a number of opportunities. Robin van Persie had two chances to steal a late victory. If United ends up tasked with scoring goals at home (something they won’t need to do at kickoff two weeks from now), they can believe their clinical finishing combined with a more ambitious style will sink Real Madrid.

Man of the Match: Only one or two of the saves that David de Gea (right) made couldn’t have been made by another goalkeeper (how many players are going to make a hockey-style kick save?), but like Gianluigi Buffon yesterday, much of de Gea’s value was in what he didn’t do. On a series of hard, well placed shots, de Gea consistently pushed balls into touch or innocuous areas that prevented Real Madrid from building on their pressure. Once the ball was out for corner kicks, United used their aerial superiority to defuse any danger.

source: Getty ImagesThe English media has derided de Gea for his trouble coming out for crosses, a criticism that makes sense given the emphasis English soccer has traditionally put on wide play and crossing for target strikers. But some time ago, that derision crossed the line and started depicting de Gea as a much worse keeper than he actually is. Today may help correct the record.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Manchester United’s central defense continues to improve – We talked about it this weekend, but after another strong performance, it bears repeating: If Manchester United’s problems in central defense are solved, the team has little worry about over the rest of the season. They’ll continue cruising away from England, and they’ll be a dark horse contender to win Champions League.

Rio Ferdinand got the call along side Jonny Evans today, and thanks to help from de Gea and the midfield-deployed Phil Jones, the duo managed to withstand constant pressure from the Merengues. Whether it was dealing with Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín or having to contain Cristiano Ronaldo on those occasions the Real winger cut insider Ferdinand and Evans were up to the challenge, winning their battles against Real’s No. 9s while forcing Ronaldo toward the byline and limiting him to crosses.

The difference a healthy Ferdinand offers is striking. Organization we rarely an issue, and Ferdinand still possessions great judgment choosing when to come out of defense to challenge in midfield.

Unfortunately, he’s rarely healthy, but if he can stay fit for the next four months, United could have their strongest team since Moscow.

A lot of chances, just not the right ones – From their final third to the edge of the penalty area, Real Madrid’s attackers (particularly Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria) were given room to run at the defense, an approach that resulted in a number of long distance shots, many of which were blocked. United’s defenders kept play in front of them an absorbed attacks rather than challenge for the ball and potentially leave themselves exposed.

The results were huge deficits in possession (61-39) and total shots (28-13) but few danger moments for de Gea and, for a road team, a relatively competitive difference in shots on target (8-6).

Real Madrid needed to be more patient. Particularly given the way de Gea was managing the shots that got through on goal, they needed to craft something more dangerous.

Because the little through balls they’re used to playing were unavailable against United, los Blancos may have elected to try and burn the Red Devils from distance. But it didn’t work, and unless they get a deflection or a hand ball call in the second leg, it’s unlikely to work at Old Trafford.

The value of Phil Jones – It’s easy for a defense to look good when somebody like Phil Jones is protecting them.

On Sunday, Jones was tasked with marking Marouane Fellaini, an approach that helped United keep a clean sheet against Everton. Today, Jones was a wrecking ball in front of the United defense. Late in the match, his experience at center half came into play as he dropped deeper and to help the Red Devils bleed out the draw.

Because of his versatility (able to play center half, right back, and defensive midfield) it’s been difficult to say United have missed Jones in any particular role, but with the former Blackburn prospect injured for much of the season, the Red Devils certainly have missed him to come degree. It’s games like Wednesday’s that illustrate how much.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Whenever there’s a job to do wide, Wayne Rooney gets the call. Today in United’s defensive phase, Rooney often played on the right of a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape and helped shield right back Rafael. His usage was reminiscent of five years ago when Ferguson temporarily converted used Rooney  as a left winger.
  • In attack, United tried to get Danny Welbeck forward from the left as Rooney and Kagawa operated behind him and van Persie. With so little meaningful possession, it was difficult to tell how well it worked.
  • With United electing to absorb so much of Real Madrid’s attack, the Merengues would have really used somebody capable of driving forward from midfield to help create isolated advantages along the defense. Sami Khedira sometimes does this, while Xabi Alonso’s out of his element too close to the box. This game might have needed more Kaká.
  • Pepe was back from injury and saw some late time, coming in late when José Mourinho decided to guard against a second United goal. Iker Casillas was injured and failed to make Real Madrid’s bench.

Serie A: Roma triumph in Rome derby, still level with AC Milan in 2nd

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Daniele De Rossi (C) with his teammates of AS Roma celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Lazio 0-2 Roma

A win would have put Lazio two points clear of their capital rivals and right into the thick of the race for second. Instead, they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Olympic Stadium. Kevin Strootman put the “visitors” ahead in the 64th minute with a simple finish following Wallace‘s disastrous giveaway atop Lazio’s 18-yard box. The Dutch midfielder then proceeded to pathetically writhe around in pain after Danilo Cataldi tugged on the back of his jersey, which was allegedly instigated by Strootman spraying water on the substitute as he made his way back to midfield for the restart.

Radja Nainggolan finished off the Biancocelesti with Roma’s second goal of the game in the 77th minute, a pinpoint, bouncing effort from 30 yards out with which Federico Marchetti couldn’t cope. The Belgian broke free in the middle of the field, dribbled past a defender, and fired from distance to make it 2-0. The victory sees the Giallorossi remain just four points back of Juventus in the league table, level on points with AC Milan in the race for second.

AC Milan 2-1 Crotone

Speaking of the Rossoneri, Vincenzo Montella’s side came back from a goal down in the first half to defeat bottom-of-the-league Cronto at the San Siro Stadium. The victory keeps Milan level with Roma for that second and final automatic UEFA Champions League spot.

Crotone went 1-0 up in the 26th minute, but 21-year-old Mario Pasalic equalized four minutes before halftime with a tap-in from three yards out, followed by Gianluca Lapadula’s winner in the 86th minute, a scrappy finish following a failed clearance of a free kick, which prevented one of the most embarrassing results of the still-young season thus far.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 2-1 Palermo
Pescara 1-1 Cagliari
Sampdoria 2-0 Torino
Sassuolo 3-0 Empoli

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 15 12 0 3 32 13 19 8-0-0 4-0-3 36
 Roma 15 10 2 3 35 16 19 7-0-0 3-2-3 32
 AC Milan 15 10 2 3 27 19 8 6-1-1 4-1-2 32
 Napoli 15 8 4 3 27 15 12 5-2-1 3-2-2 28
 Lazio 15 8 4 3 27 16 11 5-1-2 3-3-1 28

La Liga scoreboard

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Eibar
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo
Alaves 3-1 Las Palmas
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Osasuna
Valencia 2-2 Malaga

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 14 10 4 0 37 12 25 5-2-0 5-2-0 34
 Barcelona 14 8 4 2 34 15 19 3-3-1 5-1-1 28
 Sevilla 14 8 3 3 25 20 5 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 Atlético Madrid 14 7 4 3 28 11 17 4-2-1 3-2-2 25
 Villarreal 14 6 5 3 19 10 9 5-1-1 1-4-2 23
 Real Sociedad 13 7 2 4 22 14 8 4-2-1 3-0-3 23
 Athletic 14 7 2 5 20 17 3 5-1-1 2-1-4 23

Amid leaked docs, Ronaldo’s agent publishes tax document in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Crsitiano Ronaldo (R) speaks with his agent Jorge Mendes (R) after his signing contract renewal For Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent has released a document that allegedly shows the player is in compliance with Spain’s tax authority.

The document published by company Gestifute, ran by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, allegedly shows that Spanish fiscal authorities certify that the player is “up to date on his obligations.”

The document’s release comes a day after European media outlets released what it claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute said Saturday, “Ronaldo has always acted in good faith in this matter, as the fact that he has never been involved in any conflict with tax authorities from any country where he has lived clearly shows.”

Gestifute also published a similar document in Mourinho’s name on Friday.

VIDEO: Mourinho again harps on Manchester United performance despite result

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The third straight 1-1 draw for Manchester United has left Jose Mourinho little more than a broken record.

Everton scored on a late penalty to even things up, and it gave the Portuguese manager even more fodder for his tiresome narrative.

“We were the best team by far,” Mourinho said. “But we didn’t win. We had chances for 2-0, we had the ball off the post, and then we concede a goal in the last minute.”

[ RECAP: Everton grabs a point against Manchester United on a late penalty ]

When asked if his team dropped off at the end, he rejected that notion, and instead decided to lament a perceived double standard among fans and the media. Mourinho feels the focus is always on a negative, whether that is the result or the performance. “When my team wins matches playing a different [less entertaining] style of football, then what matters is the style of football, not the results. You have in these moment teams in the Premier League playing defensive and counter-attack football and getting results. That is phenomenal, in your words. When my team is playing extremely well, the results are more important.”

“I am happy that my team is playing really well, even in difficult matches like today, and it’s a problem for us that we are not getting what we deserve and it’s a problem for us that we have a position in the table that has no relation with the quality of the football we are showing.”

[ RELATED: Should Marcus Rojo have been sent off? ]

He would not comment on either of the major refereeing decisions, those being the Marcos Rojo yellow card in the 16th minute and the late penalty whistled on Marouane Fellaini.

VIDEO: Howe says Bournemouth hero Fraser “deserved his opportunity”

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Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe had time to collect himself after the Cherries stunned Liverpool, coming back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in injury time.

He was very praiseworthy of the opponents, who appeared to have an easy day after scoring twice early on before Bournemouth stormed back later.

“It was a great game, obviously from our perspective because we won, but I thought Liverpool showed their quality in the first half,” Howe said. “I thought they were excellent, but we showed a great attitude and never gave up.”

After falling behind 2-0 thanks to a pair of errors by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, it was a tough road to halftime, and although they got one back, Liverpool responded quickly to again restore the two-goal lead at 3-1. It looked bleak for the Cherries at home.

“It was a tough afternoon,” Howe said. “We knew the quality of Liverpool, we knew how they played. They did it very well, and we didn’t, we were flat, and it really took our substitutes to have a big impact in the game and liven us up.”

Finally, the Cherries boss said that he had his eye on the hero Ryan Fraser for some time, and that he knew he was ready to take his chance. “He’s been training like that for a few weeks now, I think he’s deserved his opportunity. He came on the pitch and gave us that belief.” The 22-year-old came on and scored his first Premier League goal as well as assisted two others in the comeback.