Impossible expectations can never be met, so why try to live up to them? David de Gea has been heavily criticized since the first time he put on the Manchester United goalkeeper jersey, but slowly and gradually, he’s winning over those who called for him to be benched or even sold.
To be truthful, Real Madrid didn’t test the weak spot in De Gea’s armor – handling crosses, fast, coming close to him, that usually force him to punch away instead of grab and collect. But what they did test him with, turning out to be mostly tricky shots, like Coentrao’s shot from inside the box that De Gea slightly nudged to hit the post and steer clear, or a couple of weird saves in the second half, one of them with his foot and the other managing to stay on his feet while the ball took a nasty deflection from a lunging Michael Carrick.
United didn’t come to win, and almost stole away the victory. Alex Ferguson has changed his approach three times this season, and since shifting to a system that discards wingers and leaves a lot of tactical work up to Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, he simply can’t lose, despite not playing well and often giving up control in the middle of the pitch. When he put Phil Jones on next to Carrick he was practically screaming to everyone he’s not planning on trying too hard to win.
And what did he get? Robin van Persie oh so close to scoring three times – once hitting the post after Diego Lopez made the save; a second time mishitting a volley he usually scores with his eyes closed; and at injury time, getting another impressive stretch out of the Real Madrid goalkeeper. Not trying to win and still, Van Persie is so good at the moment, while Real Madrid defenders aren’t in world-beating form at the moment, which gave United quite a few opportunities without really trying to open up to win the match.
Phil Jones meant defending, but Jones came up as one of the biggest heroes in the match. Managers rarely put personal man on man markers who simply stick like glue to their man these days, but Jones never let Ronaldo get out of sight from the 50th minute and onward, making sure that the Portuguese star, who had loads of space to run free in the first half, including scoring a goal while rising undisturbed for an impressive header, hardly touched the ball.
And it doesn’t go unnoticed, all the hard and tactical work some of the players who usually have scoring and assists on their mind put int. Wayne Rooney has long been one of the more versatile players in European football, and his ability to play from striker to winger to deep lying midfielder, all while being a fantastic defensive presence as well is no surprise. Danny Welbeck used to be a striker, but Ferguson is using his physical talents and work rate to create more than just pressure up front, but help Patrice Evra out every match.
From the two managers, Ferguson was the one who made the correct adjustments in the second half. United don’t try to dominate matches they don’t need to, even against much weaker teams. It’s been working for them all season in the Premier League, and in the Champions League. Playing against Real Madrid and in the Santiago Bernabeu, as it turns out, doesn’t really matter.