Manchester United lined with a notable absence in the team – David Beckham. Ole Gunner Solsjkaer, Utd’s hero in Barcelona 4 years previous, started out wide right, taking Beckhams spot in the team. Ryan Giggs covered the other wing, with Dutch Striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who scored the crucial away goal in the first leg to give United hope for the return fixture. United utilised a midfield 3 of Keane, Butt and Veron, with Paul Scholes missing out through suspension. John O’Shea started at right back due to Gary Neville also being suspended, with French International Mikael Silvestre starting at Left back, with England duo Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown parting each other in defence. French world cup winning eccentric goalkeeper Fabien Barthez started in goal. Sir Alex Ferguson started with a 4-5-1 formation, trying to utilise the midfield three to stifle the creativity of the Real Madrid attacking superstar.
Real Madrid lined up in an 4-4-2 diamond formation, Brazilian striker Ronaldo leading the line with Guti playing just off him, on front of World record signing, Zinedine Zidane. The wide men were McManaman and Figo, with Claude Makalele playing in the holding role named after him. The back four comprised of the usual suspects for Los Blancos – Salgado, Hierro, Helguera and Roberto Carlos, with Casillas in his usual position in goal, that he held for many, many years. The tactic was to utilise the full creativity of the Madrid team, with Zidane and Guti providing the platform for Ronaldo to flourish, with Makelele the backbone to stop the Manchester United attacks, and hold his defensive positioning to provide the team a strong defence on which to build.
Manchester United are in their famous red home strip, while Madrid kick off in their black away strip.
Madrid start off passing the ball around the back, before Claude Makelele errenously fires a pass straight out for a throw in under pressure from 3 United midfielders. The high pressing immediately from United could become an issue for Madrid, especially targeting the Frenchman who is not known for his on the ball skills. Roberto Carlos makes a similar mistake under pressure a few moments later, as United look to press high and force Madrid to play it long, nullifying their creative threats.
Madrid seem to favour a shorting passing play, to try to pass around the United midfield, whilst also utilising their wingers and overlapping fullbacks to overwhelm the Red Devils flanks. United however favour a more direct style of play, which gives them the first decent chance of the match. Three passes gets United from their own half to the Madrid third, Ferdinand finding Veron in midfield, who finds a through ball to Van Nistelrooy, who takes it near the corner flag. He fools Hierro with a cheeky fake shot, before beating Roberto Carlos and hitting a hard shot towards goal, which Casillas tipped over for a corner. The corner results in a Giggs shot saved by the goalkeeper.
Six minutes in and the first big hit of the game. Van Nistelrooy is running with the ball, and lays it off the Giggs as Makelele runs into him, hitting him square in the throat with a high elbow. In 2020 It would be a certain red, but here Collina, the referee, didn’t brandish even a yellow, and let play continue.
9 Minutes in, and John O’Shea receives a cross field ball from Paul Scholes. He controls it with his chest, and brings it down. He takes a touch and taps the ball through the legs of former Balon d’or winner Luis Figo, in a clip that has become a viral hit in recent times.
The game so far has been end to end, both teams attacked being snuffed out by the time they get even a sniff of the oppositions goal. Ronaldo has not been a fixture of the game so far, Madrid making more of an effort down the wing than through the middle.
Zidane’s quality and first touch is a sight to behold, the ball stuck to his foot at all times. He starts off the counter attack for Madrid, picking up the ball in his own area and finding a short pass Steve Mcmanaman on the left. He waits, and picks out Luis Figo, who’s one touch pass finds Zidane once again. Zidane plays a long ball straight to Guti, who hits a inch perfect through ball to Ronaldo, who gets his first chance on goal of the game. He runs onto the ball, and using his pace to beat Rio Ferdinand, lashes the ball past Barthez at his near post and into the United goal. Showing his quality immensely, the clinical Ronaldo scored on his first sniff of action, putting Real Madrid one nil up on 12 minutes, and put the tie seemingly out of sight, as the aggregate score stands at 4-1 to Real.
United get the next chance of the game, a long ball over the top by Mikael Silvestre is headed on by Ruud Van Nistelrooy, which Solsjkaer chases but is ultimately caught by Iker Casillas. They go on the attack again, some neat passing down the right until Roy Keane finds Ryan Giggs in the centre. The Welsh international plays a one-two with Veron past Makelele, and slots it through for Solsjkaer, who’s shot is blocked by Helguera and sent out for a throw in. Soon after, Veron is booked for trying to murder Makelele by going through the back of him with both feet and a murderous look in his eye.
20 Minutes in, Madrid come close again. The goalscorer Ronaldo wins the ball back after a slip from Rio Ferdinand down the left hand side, and the ball makes it way back to the right hand side to Miguel Salgado. The team passes it around nicely until Roberto Carlos finds Zidane in the box with a cross from deep on the left. Zidane with one touch cushions the ball down for Luis Figo, who’s shot is severely is mishit and flies into the air, looping down towards the United goal and tipped over by Barthez, out for a corner.
Madrid’s short sharp passing play is easily bypassing the United Midfield, but the strong defensive line is not giving an inch for ground balls through, the goal being the only exception. Zidane is pulling all the strings in midfield and playing some lovely balls though and it’s only a matter of time before Madrid capitalise. United pressing hasn’t worked as they would have hoped thus far, and it seems impossible to keep up the intensity with limited reward for their effort.
25 Minutes in and Utd come close, with their best chance of the match. Solsjkaer picks the ball up down the right-hand side, and finds Ryan Giggs with a short pass as he continues his run into the box. Giggs finds Van Nistelrooy, and Sosjkaer’s run is finally noticed as the ball is played to him inside the six yard box. He slides for the ball and it is a certain tap in, but the two players on him cause him to miss the ball, and Real counter on the break. United send a long ball from the left to Van Nistelrooy into the box, but Madrid it again, out for a throw in. United are starting to get more involved, but Madrid still dominate possession.
Half an hour in, and Rio Ferdinand goes through the back of Ronaldo 30 yards out, to the left of goal. Brazilian full back Roberto Carlos, famed for his powerful, curling free kicks, lines up his trademark run up. The United wall lines up on the left hand side, but Carlos sneakily tries to bypass the pass, and smash the ball into Barthez near side corner. He hits it low, but the ball is just wide and goes out for a goal kick.
Manchester United start to enjoy a spell of possession, and over the next few minutes pass the ball around nicely, looking for an opening, while Madrid try more long balls to switch possession and to try to catch the defence out, over the top to Ronaldo. Van Nistelrooy comes deep, as he and United midfield link up nicely, passing with pace trying to force an opening past this cultured Madrid defence. A Van Nistelrooy cross causes confusion in the box, and Giggs picks the ball up 25 yards out. He controls the ball, takes a touch, and feigns to shoot, instead switching the ball onto his weaker right foot. He turns his body and takes the shot with his right, placing the ball just pass Casillas and out for a goal kick.
United get into the game
A tackle by Roberto Carlos during a United attack, and he goes off for treatment. Manchester United find themselves, briefly, a man up as Soljkaer wins the Red Devils a corner kick, with half time fast approaching. The corner is passed back to Barthez, who’s long ball into the falls to Sosjkaer again, who’s shot is straight at Casillas and is parried out for a throw in. Barthez confidence in leaving his area and playing the ball with his feet is a useful asset, allowing the United defence to play a higher line, as Barthez will be able to rush out to clear any balls over the top.
United finally get a goal, just before half time. A collected long ball by Barthez is given to Silvestre, who’s cross field ball that has been utilised all game finds it target once again. Ryan Giggs brings the ball down, and slips it through to the onrushing Ole Gunner Solsjkaer. The Norwegian slides into the box, and with one touch brushes the ball past Casillas and into the path of the oncoming striker, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. A simple tap in from the Dutchman makes the game 1-1, and gives United hope going into he second half, with the scores 4-2 on aggregate. The teams go into half time both with a degree of happiness, United for equalising and Madrid knowing United still need at least 2 more goals just to take the tie to extra time.
Half time comes up and the statistics for the half are revealed, and quite frankly I’m a bit shocked. United have more shots on goal which I suspected, Madrid have had trouble finding their chances are waiting patently for the perfect one, a la the Ronaldo goal. But United also have the edge on possession, have 53% to Madrid’s 47%. I would’ve said Madrid had more, but United have had more and have looked more like scoring again.