Four things we learned from the Bernabeu

Posted by Mark Payne

PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty ImagesSir Alex Ferguson is relishing his team's Champions League tie versus fellow European giants Real Madrid.

Fergie is in his element

The difference between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho in their pre-match press conferences was astounding. While Mourinho was all monosyllabic sulking, Fergie was chuckling away about Wayne Rooney's linguistic prowess.

To think Fergie was 71 just a few weeks ago boggles the mind. He clearly loves every minute of this match-up. The size of the clubs, the quality of the manager in the opposing dugout, the players on the pitch -- everything about this tie is to his liking.

- Fergie: Playing Vidic was risky

Every season there is an ongoing debate about who is going to replace the great man when he eventually retires. In the meantime, it makes more sense to watch the wily genius enjoy the peak of his profession.

Beware of crosses

It seems such an old-fashioned weakness for teams as accomplished as these to have but it can't be ignored. Cristiano Ronaldo's improbable header and the individual impishness of Danny Welbeck provided the aesthetic highlights of the first leg. The goalscorers profited from this avenue at both ends and it seems likely that another goal will come from this route at Old Trafford.

Mesut Ozil is a constant danger down the flank and the tendencies of Patrice Evra and Rafael to bomb forward will be exploited if succumbed to. Perhaps the focus on having accomplished ball players all over the park has negated the need to simply pick big fellas in defence.

United's corner takers on Wednesday were Rooney and Robin van Persie, both primary strikers. Their training is to hit the ball with speed and precision. It is a different type of cross to defend and the Madrid centre backs struggled.

United's young guns can cut it on the big stage

When this Manchester United team is criticized, the barbs concern the lack of a 'sleeves rolled-up' character, the absence of a Bryan Robson or a Roy Keane. It seems the squad are tired of hearing this.

The spine of the team was made up of young players with true grit. David de Gea's performance in goal has rightly been lauded, but the performance of Jonny Evans in front of him was just as good. The Northern Irishman has received stick on more than one occasion in the past, but he was unflappable in Spain.

Phil Jones and Welbeck also received special praise from the manager for their contributions. Both players were born and raised in the north west and fans take particular delight in local success stories.

United's best players were all under 25. Fergie's shrewd policy of constant squad reinvention is bearing fruit. He is on the verge of his fifth great side. Another staggering achievement in the long line of staggering achievements the Scot has already registered.

Rio Ferdinand has still got it

It wasn't the first time this season that Ferdinand played well and it wasn't the first time he did so without fuss. The years 2006-2010 were a masterclass in central defending but two years in an injury-ravaged wilderness left questions over Ferdinand.

It would seem that Ferdinand has quietly got on with the job of getting back to his best. This season he has played 20 league games and it is clear that Rafael, de Gea and others are calmer and more focused when he is on the field.

Why he isn't picked for the national side is a mystery. England's loss is Manchester United's gain.

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