The first leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 was a fascinating spectacle.
Two giants of world football, packed with star names but by no means infallible, conjured a game of attacking intent, great defending and keeping, two accurate headers and a host of missed opportunities.
However, in the grand scheme of things the 1-1 scoreline has not changed the narrative at all. United need to beat Madrid at Old Trafford if they want to progress to the next round of Europe's most prestigious competition.
Jose Mourinho is of the same mind. Speaking after the game, he said: "Everything is open for the second leg and I think this will go to the last minute.
"If you ask me for a percentage, it's 50/50. We can score more than one goal over there [at Old Trafford].
Mourinho added: "They have got a result that they like but we will have chances to score at Old Trafford.
"Lots of teams have done so there and they do not have the offensive potential we do. Tonight we had the initiative against an opponent on the edge of their own area.
"I do not think they will sit deep and close off at Old Trafford. English footballing culture will not allow them to play with the defence in their area. They cannot play at home as they have here."
Ferguson’s men were well organised, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were strong at the back, while Michael Carrick and Phil Jones helped shield the defence, and everyone worked hard.
However, were it not for the heroics of David de Gea in goal, Madrid could have won by a clear margin, and no-one realistically expects United to keep a clean sheet in the return leg.
That need not be a problem, however, as United have proved this season that they are at their best when on the front foot. The Red Devils have looked susceptible at the back but incisive up front. Ferguson's only expectation was that the first leg would not end 0-0; he will likely say the same about the second leg.
The problem is Real are electrifying on the counter, in fact after Real Betis beat Madrid their coach Pepe Mel said: "Against Madrid, you give them the ball."
As winning strategies go it sounds counter-intuitive, but in a strange way that is exactly the point. Real, in the final thralls of the Mourinho era, are struggling to break teams down. On the counter attack they have the pace to exploit spaces and openings, but when faced with a bank of defenders Los Merengues have relied more an more on something special from Cristiano Ronaldo. While it would be foolish to label Madrid a one man team, they are restricted in their attacking dimensions.
It is highly unlikely Ferguson will set his team out to defend the advantage of Danny Welbeck’s away goal. United were burned by Bayern Munich in 2010 when losing on away goals after letting slip a 2-0 lead in the second leg at Old Trafford. Complacency will be costly yet again.
The first goal could be key. If United score they will have something to defend, Real will have to take the initiative, and as good as Madrid on the break so are United. Robin van Persie had two chances to win the first leg late on, hitting the bar before seeing a scuffed effort cleared off the line.
For Real and Mourinho, this is all or nothing. United look set to win back the Premier League title from rivals Manchester City, but Ferguson has bemoaned only winning two Champions League titles. The Scot will want to win another and he’ll fancy his team to beat anyone on their day. Come March 5, the best chance his side have of progressing is by going out to win the match. Away goals should not come into the equation.
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