The most recent biggest football match of the century of the week, Real Madrid vs. Manchester United, was not the greatest 90+ minutes of sport I've ever witnessed. That doesn't in any way, however, mean that the game didn't meet the expectations fans from around the world had going into the contest. The fact is that this match had just about everything the casual fan could want; lots of back and forth action throughout both halves, Cristiano Ronaldo levitating in the penalty area before burying an equalizer, and plenty of controversy that left the visitors and their supporters feeling as if they deserved better.
Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: The biggest surprise
Who predicted before the start of the game that the three best players on the evening would be David De Gea, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones? Jones was a physical presence on both ends of the pitch, one that kept Ronaldo in check during the second half and one who also may have gotten away with a foul inside the box four minutes from halftime. That incident lost some of its luster, however, once Madrid were given the benefit of the doubt following a similar instance that occurred in the second half. One could easily argue that Welbeck should have ultimately been named man of the match. He did well to out-muscle Sergio Ramos (no easy task) before heading home the first tally of the match, he worked as hard as did anybody else out on the field, and he twice nearly produced a double that would have made him the game's MVP.
For my money, however, nobody was as vital to the draw as was De Gea. The United 'keeper was in absolute control of his area starting seconds after the five-minute mark when he pushed a Fabio Coentrao attempt that was headed for goal onto the left post. His top save and the highlight reel moment of the game came in the 62nd minute, when De Gea left his feet to deny Coentrao with a flying kick. De Gea has earned himself lots of criticism since joining United, but public opinion on him is likely to sway before the weekend arrives following his latest performance.
Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: Ref
Non-United fans are known for routinely pointing out that match referees often appear to make decisions in favor of one Sir Alex. That definitely was not the case on Wednesday. Minus the previously mentioned moment involving Jones and Angel Di Maria, referee Felix Brych was somewhere between "shaky and inconsistent" and "caught up in the emotions and/or possibly a lifelong supporter of Real Madrid." All sarcasm aside, United could not buy a foul in the midfield for most of the match, while Jose Mourinho's boys got every legitimate call (and a few iffy ones, as well) they wanted.
Brych's most questionable decision also happened to be his last of the evening. United earned a corner 30 seconds before the end of the announced three minutes of stoppage time, and, with the draw well in-hand, the EPL side understandably took their time in executing what they hoped would be the final meaningful play of the match. Brych had both eyes on his watch the entire time, and he blew the final whistle at three minutes and one second of ST.
I've seen friendlies and games that featured a team down by multiple goals end with one side preparing to send a corner into the box. I can't say the same about a tied Champions League contest. There is, of course, no way to know if United would have found a dramatic match-winner at the death.
It still would have been nice to see that corner happen.
Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: One last point
A major topic discussed among soccer fans in the US leading up to Wednesday's game was that well-known NFL and college basketball announcer Gus Johnson would be calling play-by-play for this Champions League fixture. Johnson was far from perfect. He misidentified players on at least one occasion, and he sometimes let the game breathe a little too much when no additional air was necessary.
With all of that said, the outrageous criticisms of Johnson that I've seen on social networking websites since Wednesday afternoon have been inaccurate and utterly ridiculous. Johnson was a perfectly acceptable play-by-play man who didn't at all ruin my enjoyment of the match, and those who say otherwise had likely already made their minds up about the American announcer before the game's first kick. Those individuals should get used to hearing his voice.
There's no reason to believe Gus won't be doing more Champions League matches down the road.