UEFA Champions League: Manchester United holds out for draw from Real Madrid

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Real Madrid dominated from the opening kickoff, but thanks to a corner kick converted by Danny Welbeck, Manchester United was on top early at the Santiago Bernabeu. Though the Merengues were able to equalize through Cristiano Ronaldo 10 minutes later, the Red Devils held on for the final hour to escape Spain with a valuable road goal and a 1-1 draw.

The result will be disappointing one for Real and manager José Mourinho. Having given up a road goal, his team must score at Old Trafford when the teams resume their two-legged affair on March 5 in Manchester.

That El Real are in this situation despite controlling the first leg is cause for both optimism and regret. Based on today’s play, Real Madrid have reason to believe they will be the better side regardless of when or where the next game is played. But Los Blancos should also regret their failure to take advantage of 61 percent possession and eight shots on target. In a game where one corner kick can get an outgunned team a road craw, being the better side is often not enough.

(MORE: Borussia Dortmund get result at Shakhtar Donetsk.)

The edge in shots would have been greater were it not for a strong day from goalkeeper David de Gea. The former Atlético Madrid keeper not only recorded seven saves but managed Real’s shots such that the hosts never had a chance to followup on a number of well-hit chances. Though those attempts produced 12 Real Madrid corner kicks, strong aerial work from Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, and Jonny Evans left the favorites unable to convert.

Manchester United went up in the 20th minute after a long ball out of their end led to a corner won by Shinji Kagawa. From the left of goal Wayne Rooney swung the restart to the middle of the penalty area at the edge of the six-yard box. Welbeck peeled away from defender Sergio Ramos just in time to head a shot inside the right post, putting United in front.

Ten minutes later, it was Real Madrid’s turn to profit through the air. An unmolested cross from the left flank found Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post against out-matched left back Patrice Evra. Ronaldo elevated uncontested and uncoiled onto a ball put just against the right post, giving De Gea no chance to stop the equalizer.

(MORE: Drilling down on Real-United.)

Though the final hour was dominated by Real Madrid, Manchester United came closest to recording a go-ahead goal. In the 72nd minute, Robin van Persie got a chance through the right in transition, his shot from 10 yards pushed onto the crossbar by Diego Lopez.

Moments later, van Persie was fed behind the defense and threaded his shot around an oncoming Lopez. Xabi Alonso dropped back and cleared the slow bouncer off the line.

By the end of the match, José Mourinho was playing to preserve the draw, with Luka Modric brought on for Angel Di Maria before Alonso gave way for Pepe. With Alex Ferguson making similar choices — bringing on Ryan Giggs for Kagawa, Antonio Valencia for Welbeck, and Anderson for Rooney — the teams had acquiesced to the draw before Felix Byrch’s final whistle.

Check back later this afternoon as ProSoccerTalk drills down on both Manchester United’s visit to Real Madrid and German champion Borussia Dortmund voyage to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.