Football Round-Up, (Week 26, FA Cup Last 16)

Manchester United are yet to actually play their game for this week (tonight, in the FA Cup against Reading), so instead it’ll all be about the Champions League.

It was an effective performance that matched expectations against Real Madrid. Probabaly the best defensive work United have done all season, and that’s saying something this season. Vidic being left out was a major concern, but the rested Ferdinand and Evans proved an able partnership. There is only so much you can do about someone as dangerous as Ronaldo – look at the height he was able to get on that header – but they were able to contain the offensive threat of Ronaldo, Ozil and Benzema as well as anyone. Some had heavy criticism for Rafael, but he did his part as well as could be expected, and Phil Jones was an able link in the space between defence and midfield.

That midfield was sorely tested, and Michael Carrick came up lacking, in a showing that is uncharacteristic of his season. Rooney had to be one tracking back to help out, especially down the United left flank.

Welbeck’s put in the performance of his season, well worth his goal and could have had more. RVP was quiet, more of a lone target man than anything, but was guilty of a truly stunning miss late on. One that I can only hope does not come back to haunt United.

It is to the oft-maligned David De Gea that much of the plaudits must go, pulling off a succession of brilliant saves to keep Real out, though he was spared further work by the blocking efforts of his defence. De Gea has long been due such a hallmark display, and no better time to do it than right here.

The second leg in a few weeks will be an equally nervy affair. While United have the advantage, only a fool would write Real – and Mourinho – off this early. They have plenty of firepower and passing skill to show off. They have to attack, and few better teams for that kind of thing. All it will take is one goal to upset the apple cart, though Manchester United may hope to better exploit Madrid weakness from crosses and set-pieces at home.

It was FA Cup weekend, save for Liverpool’s trouncing of Swansea. An unexpected turnabout there for the Swans, but the Rerds just laid siege to their goal. I was scoffing at HT, with Liverpool having hit the ball at the goal 24 times and only having scored from a penalty, but Swansea could not hold up under that withering assault. Facing an early exit from the Europe League after a poor game away to Zenit, Liverpool might yet be distraction free in a late drive for a European place.

As for the FA Cup, it went just about as expected, save for Arsenal’s humiliation at home to Blakcburn. Another year without a trophy, another year of wondering if Wenger will be gone soon. Rovers were well with the result though. Chelsea’s mauling of Brentford and City’s similar result against Leeds were all examples of a top-flight team getting it together to dispatch lower-league opposition, which should really put paid to talk of “romance”. Oldham snatched a draw because they out the work in and caught Everton off-guard, no easy task, and their reward will be another bite at the cheery. Brentford and Leeds didn’t. Difference.

I expect United will win tonight, though you wonder just how much attention they will be giving to the FA Cup now that they are in prime position over Real.

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