Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester United (3-2 ag)

Sir Alex Ferguson's controversial decisions to start Ryan Giggs and Nani at right and left midfield respectively and bench Wayne Rooney looked to be paying dividends as Manchester United went into the locker room level with Real Madrid at 0-0 and looking the more dangerous of the two sides.

Madrid had created little in the opening 45 minutes. Ronaldo was uncharacteristically quiet and United looked dangerous every time they broke forward on the counter.

Ferguson opted for a 4-4-2, employing Danny Welbeck alongside Robin Van Persie up top. It was expected Tom Cleverley would replace the injured Phil Jones and play on the right side of center midfield to provide Rafael with defensive help on Ronaldo. However, it was Carrick who was fielded more towards the right with Cleverley on the left side of central midfield. Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra lined up across the back.

Jose Mourinho's side lined up just as they had in the first leg with the exception of Higuain in for Benzema at forward.

United defended fairly deep with two banks of four. Welbeck dropped in behind Van Persie and tracked Xabi Alonso, denying him from receiving passes from Verane and Sergio Ramos. United's defensive lines of four were compact but it was still surprising that Ozil, usually fantastic at finding pockets of space in between the seams, was having so much trouble receiving the ball in behind Cleverley and Carrick.

With Welbeck denying Xabi Alonso the opportunity to get on the ball and pick out forward passes from deep in midfield, Madrid's more advanced attackers dropped deeper and deeper to get on the ball. On separate occasions Ozil, Di Maria and Higuain dropped well behind United's midfield four to get on the ball. It was a testament to Ferguson's tactics and United's organization that those three gifted attackers were collecting the ball 45 yards from goal where they are obviously far less dangerous.

On the right side of the United defense, Giggs played deep and dropped in to help Rafael on Ronaldo whenever he could. Every time Rafael advanced forward when United were in possession, either Giggs or one of the center midfielders dropped in to fill the defensive hole in an effort to deny Ronaldo the space to counter.

Offensively, United looked to counter rapidly. Once they regained possession, Welbeck would sprint past Xabi Alonso and into the channels to spring counters. They looked to create overloads in wide areas and send crosses into the box.

Second Half
Although United's opener was largely due to an individual error from Varane, it highlighted their ability to make dangerous runs in behind the Madrid midfield and advance the ball forward at pace. Rafael broke forward down the right before finding Welbeck's late surging run into the box. Eventually the ball broke for Nani whose low cross was deflected by Ramos into his own net.

Nani's 56th minute red card turned the game on its head. United were forced to switch to a 4-4-1. Welbeck went wide left and Van Persie played alone up top. Recognizing he didn't need four at the back to deal only with Van Persie, Mourinho replaced right back Arbeloa with Luka Modric and switched to a 3-4-3. Madrid therefore had a 4 v. 2 advantage in the middle of midfield. Welbeck and Giggs tucked narrow to the inside to offer help in the central areas, conceding the left channel entirely to Coentrao.

Ferguson's men continued to defend in banks of four but, crucially, they no longer had Welbeck in the middle of the pitch to defend Madrid's deepest midfielder. Modric dropped deep alongside Xabi Alonso and both were given the time and space to pick out forward passes between gaps in the United midfield four. This allowed the likes of Kaka (who had replaced the injured Di Maria in the first half), Ozil, Ronaldo and Higuain to stay in more advanced areas and create overloads with the United back four.

The introduction of Modric was a smart if not obvious substitution for Mourinho to make after gaining a man advantage. With United's midfield retreating deeper and deeper the Croatian found the space just outside the 18 to unleash a fine strike for the equalizer. For the winner, he bisected the United midfield line with a ball through to Higuain. The Argentine would play a 1-2 with Ozil before driving a low ball across the face of goal for Ronaldo to tuck home.

Knowing United needed to score two goals to win the tie, Mourinho replaced Ozil with Pepe who slid in at right back. Higuain moved out to the right when Madrid were defending and Ronaldo stayed high up the pitch at center forward, knowing he'd have the space to run at Ferdinand and Vidic with United chasing the game. Mourinho's side began to defend quite deep and failed to control possession with their man advantage. They were on the back foot for most of the final 15 minutes and were only able to maintain their goal advantage due to a handful of fine saves from Diego Lopez.

Ferguson deserves credit for United's approach in this game. They were organized, compact and countered effectively. That United would have hung on and won were it not for Nani's red card was hardly a foregone conclusion but up to that point they had been the better side.

After the game Mourinho suggested the better team had lost. While he may well have simply been buttering up a club many expect him to manage when Ferguson retires, he doubtlessly would have been disappointed with his side's inability to create many genuine chances when the game was still 11 v. 11. Still, they deserve credit for getting the job done in a hostile atmosphere at Old Trafford.