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.

VIDEO: England players ask for US support during World Cup

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With England making the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup on Sunday after hammering Panama 6-1, now may be a little too late to get on the Three Lions bandwagon.

Well, maybe not…

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Comedian James Corden spent some time with the England team and put together the video above to try and entice Americans to support the English national team this summer with the USMNT, obviously, not at the World Cup in Russia.

With Jamie Vardy acting like a cowboy, Kyle Walker refusing to say soccer and Eric Dier getting a football helmet stuck on his head, it’s safe to say they had fun.

Japan, Senegal deliver enthralling draw

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  • Senegal, Japan both have four points
  • Mane, Wague twice put Senegal ahead
  • Inui, Honda equalize twice for Japan

Japan and Senegal played to an entertaining 2-2 draw in Yekaterinburg to leave Group H finely balanced heading into the final round of games.

Sadio Mane and Moussa Wague twice put Senegal ahead but Japan fought back with goals from Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda to grab a point.

Both teams now have four points heading into their final group games, with Japan facing Poland and Senegal playing against Colombia on Thursday.

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Senegal started superbly and Mane was denied by a timely block when he got a shot away from close range early on. But the Liverpool man wasn’t to be denied his first World Cup goal.

Shortly after a cross from the right was only half cleared and Youssouf Sabaly’s shot was punched out by Eiji Kawashima but straight into Mane as the ball ricocheted off him and in. A slightly fortuitous goal from Mane but Senegal deserved the lead.

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Japan had a few opportunities from distance and grew into the game as an equalizer arrived before half time.

Nagatomo controlled the ball superbly and he played it inside to Inui who curled home a beauty into the far corner to make it 1-1.

Senegal then had a great chance on the break but Niang’s shot was saved by on the onrushing Kawashima.

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At the start of the second half Osaka’s header lacked power as N’Diaye saved, then at the other end Niang volleyed over in an end-to-end encounter.

Osako then squandered a wonderful chance after a fine move down the right saw Shibasaki cross to him six yards out but the Japanese forward somehow missed the ball entirely.

Japan went even closer soon after as Inui again curled a beautiful shot in on goal from the left side of the box but this time his effort pinged off the crossbar and went over.

Wague then put Senegal ahead as they worked the ball from the left to the far post and the 19-year-old right back arrived to smash home as the Lions of Teranga celebrated.

Osako had a shot superbly blocked by Salif Sane but then Senegal shot themselves in the foot as N’Diaye came for a cross and got it all wrong.

That led to Honda having a simple tap in to make it 2-2 and that is how an entertaining encounter finished.

Report: Salah may quit Egypt national team

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Mohamed Salah is said to be considering his future with the Egyptian national team.

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The Liverpool and Egypt star, who wasn’t fit enough to play in the Pharaohs opener against Uruguay but scored in their 3-1 defeat to hosts Russia earlier this week, is said to be fed up with being used as a political pawn as Egypt based themselves in Chechnya during the tournament.

A report from CNN claims that Salah isn’t happy with what’s been going on in Egypt’s World Cup base in Grozny, as the report states he feels he is being used as a political symbol for Chechnya.

The leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, had the following to say via social media about the 26-year-old superstar.

“Mohamed Salah is an honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic! That’s right! I gave Mohamed Salah a copy of the order and a pin at a celebratory dinner that I gave in honour of the Egyptian team.”

Salah will likely play against Saudi Arabia in Egypt’s final Group A game on Monday, but his future with the Egyptian national team seems to be in doubt.

VIDEO: Mane, Inui score in gripping Japan-Senegal clash

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Sadio Mane and Takashi Inui both scored in the first half of a gripping Group H clash on Sunday.

Senegal took the lead via Mane’s first World Cup goal which came in slightly fortuitous fashion but Japan hit back as Inui curled home a beauty.

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Below you can see both goals in the battle for supremacy in Group H.

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