Is it just us? It’s a question never far from the forefront of our minds here at The Mambo and one often inevitably answered with a resounding ‘yes’ yet there remain circumstances and scenarios thrown up where such a conclusion is just too surreal, too absurd to reconcile. Naturally, given our unshakable devotion to reason and neglect for the obtuse and wilfully contrary, when opinion wavers so dramatically the general consensus must be denounced for the drivel it represents. One such instance is the reaction to last night’s soporific spectacle between Real Madrid and Manchester United. Understandably the tie was greeted with frenzied excitement given the storied histories of its participants whilst the actual game itself proved an emphatic damp squib; suffering an almost total privation of fluency, fantasy and for large swathes football. Not that those fortunate enough to have missed the match would know.
Celebrated with an aftermath befitting its expectant preview, many observers were quick to praise the tension, drama and quality endemic, with several central figures attracting widespread acclaim. For United, the hitherto unfairly-maligned David De Gea’s reflexes were greeted with understandable awe, although less warranted accolades awaited the more prosaic offerings of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. Bizarrely, the latter was singled-out for his selflessness and willingness to affect an alien role in order to serve the team rather than for the merit of his actual performance. Of course, this is nothing new for Rooney, who for considerable periods of his career has been absent from his favoured position, which may play to his laudable enthusiasm but has largely dimmed the inherent excitement of his game, as artistry has gradually and lamentably been devoured by efficiency.
Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Alex Ferguson will leave the Spanish capital pleased with his charges’ efforts. Despite occasional defensive naivety enveloping their domestic displays, Ferguson’s latter-career continental caution underpinned a showing founded far more upon fortitude rather than flamboyance. True, his team ostensibly lined-up with 3 forwards but Rooney and Welbeck were employed primarily for their energy and endeavour rather than any great intent in supporting the often-isolated Robin van Persie. The success of the ploy however remained evident in the fact that had the Dutchman not fell foul of uncharacteristic profligacy, then his team could approach the return fixture from a winning position.
Still, as it stands Ferguson should still enter that fixture at greater ease than his counterpart, José Mourinho. With typical bravado, the Portuguese has insisted that the tie remains in the balance with the first leg draw favouring neither side. In spite of such conceit, in reality he surely appreciates his adversary’s advantage, even if such acceptance would signify acknowledgement of his own failures and moments of self-effacing grace and candour are an utterly foreign concept to Mourinho. Although in the midst of a league campaign mired in mutiny and mediocrity, Madrid’s opulent squad ensured their status as most neutral’s favourites to progress. Predictably, they dominated both territory and possession yet their lack of comfort in breaching deep defences was gauchely prominent, a typical Mourinho deficiency, with this Madrid set-up to play counter-attacking football, which when allowed space is frequently devastating but against massed defences, their lack of comfort can be alarming, even negligent considering the lavish gifts of those at the coach’s disposal.
Given the technical class of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and particularly the gloriously inventive Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s unease in creating was startling, with a graphic appearing around the 70 minute mark illustrating that neither side, for all their talent, could boast a pass completion rate of above 65%. Consequently, the home team were frequently forced into resorting to speculative long-range efforts with the ever-eager, impatient Cristiano Ronaldo forever happy to be indulged, as their lack of passing fluency bordered on the embarrassing. Still, Ronaldo’s lust for recognition was satisfied by his thunderous header which would level the scores on the night. Whilst his leap was impressive, such a finish is the sort that has habitually led excitable cretins to label the forward the game’s most ‘complete’ player, as though jumping and heading in conjunction with running and shooting are the only attributes required of an elite footballer. That aside however, Ronaldo’s performace was standard fare with flashy tricks interspersed with the usual frustrations from a player who although not anonymous was far from ominous. Oddly, the usually-excellent Sid Lowe of The Guardian saw such a fitful threat as sufficient to post a piece praising the Portuguese’s big game prominence, even in failing to facilitate a home victory for the favourites.
Ultimately, as the inferior set of individuals, Utd’s pragmatism was perhaps as necessary as it was probable, which was likely to prevent Wednesday’s match from entering the pantheon of iconic encounters between 2 of Europe’s most illustrious clubs. Still, few would have predicted the ensuing skull-creaking tedium to rank closer to the infamous entertainment-vacuum of the Liverpool vs Chelsea ‘shit on a stick’ games of a few years previous (little surprise that Mourinho was then Chelsea’s manager) and offer such an insipid, uninspiring advert for the upper-echelons of European competition, even if it did provide an excellent advert for the concurrent Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund fixture.