United-Real tie delicately poised heading into return

Such a result leaves this Champions League last 16 wonderfully poised. With United having an away goal, but Madrid more than capable of netting one or more at Old Trafford, this tie could still go either way.

But at the same time, that neither team were particularly decisive in the first leg was positive. United took the lead after 20 minutes, which could have been the catalyst for a decisive away win. Madrid had their chances but could not make them count, they could not open up a big enough lead to put distance between the two sides.

The game started in lively fashion, with Madrid pouring forward and causing problems for the United defence. David de Gea had to be on form to keep the home team out early on, but then United looked dangerous on the break, with Shinji Kagawa impressive, and Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney full of pace and industry.

Having got a goal through Welbeck’s header from a corner, United had a commanding position, but Madrid roared back through a header from Cristiano Ronaldo. Who else could it have been apart from the Portuguese? Ronaldo was a force of nature once again last night, pushing forward, finding space and enabling himself to take the sort of long range shots that are his forte. Several times he was narrowly off target. There was a free kick which hit the wall, came back and which Ronaldo flashed just wide left footed. Towards the end he struck a well hit free kick onto the top of the net. He was everywhere and could have scored his fourth hat trick of 2013, but it was not quite his night, even if he did shine.

United were good defensively, kept their shape well and dug in. Patient and clever in possession, they proved a good match for their opponents and had some good chances. Robin van Persie was particularly guilty, as he was at the same stage last season for Arsenal when he missed the chance to score what would have been a critical fourth goal at the Emirates against AC Milan in the last 16. That cost Arsenal the chance of progress to the last eight. He will hope his miss at the Bernabeu, from just a few yards out and with the goal at his mercy, won’t prove as damaging.

Whatever happens, it is sure to be another fascinating duel at Old Trafford when the return rolls around in March.