Real snatch deserved cup draw

Sir Alex Ferguson was pleased with the points after watching his

Manchester United side survive a second-half Southampton fightback

to go seven clear at the top of the Premier League.

Jay Rodriguez gave the Saints a shock third-minute lead after a

poor back-pass from Michael Carrick to slot home around the

advancing David de Gea.

Wayne Rooney notched a quick-fire first-half brace to put United

back in control, before the Saints spent almost the entire second

period camped in the home side’s half but could find no way

through.

Ferguson admitted: “That (a win) is the only thing we can take

from it.

“In the second half Southampton played probably the best any

team has played here this season. I thought they were very, very

good.

“For half an hour we were absolutely fantastic – it could have

been five. We hit the post twice, Robin (van Persie)’s missed a

chance, Danny Welbeck’s missed a chance, we were really

fabulous.

“But in the second half when the pitch started to dry out, we

found it very, very difficult and we’re just glad we won the

game.”

Both sides had plenty of chances during an enthralling first

half, but the opener did not arrive until five minutes into the

second period when Cesc Fabregas latched onto Lionel Messi’s

through ball to fire past Diego Lopez.

Madrid got the equaliser their performance merited nine minutes

from time when the game’s outstanding performer, Raphael Varane,

rose to head home Mesut Ozil’s cross.

The big news before the match was the decision of Madrid coach

Jose Mourinho to hand a debut to goalkeeper Lopez after he rejoined

the club from Sevilla last week as cover for the injured Iker

Casillas.

But it was Barca’s second-choice goalkeeper, Jose Manuel Pinto,

who was first into the action, clawing away Cristiano Ronaldo’s

dipping free-kick from under his crossbar.

Barca began to take control after that early scare and they

could have gone ahead on 13 minutes when a beautiful scoop pass

from Andres Iniesta set Jordi Alba free but the full-back skewed

his volley well off target.

Ronaldo was then inches away from connecting with a Karim

Benzema cross, before Xavi struck the crossbar with a

free-kick.

The Barcelona midfielder missed another chance to open the

scoring on 25 minutes after a terrible backpass from Ricardo

Carvalho allowed Fabregas to intercept. The former Arsenal man teed

up Xavi to take aim with the goal gaping only for the impressive

Varane to get back and clear off the line.

The hosts started to find more opportunities on the

counter-attack as the half wore on and Benzema came within inches

of scoring with a volley after being played in by Jose Maria

Callejon.

Dani Alves then made a heroic last-ditch tackle to prevent

Benzema, and the Frenchman was first to threaten after the break as

he cut inside and bent a shot just over, but it was Barcelona who

found the net moments later.

A poor clearance from Callejon was seized on by Messi, who laid

on the opening for Fabregas to apply a cool finish beyond

Lopez.

Varane produced another wonderful challenge to deny Fabregas a

second as he bore down on goal, and Madrid should have been level

four minutes later as Michael Essien whipped a bouncing cross to

the back post where Ronaldo headed just wide.

Gerard Pique thwarted Ronaldo as he tried to connect with Ozil’s

low cross before Barca had two great chances to add to the scoring

as Fabregas shot over from Alves’ cutback and Pedro’s chip drifted

wide.

Barca’s failure to kill the game off came back to bite them late

on when Ozil swung in a cross from the right and Varane powered a

header low into the bottom corner.

The visitors had one final chance to take a lead back to the Nou

Camp on February 27 but Lopez stood up well to turn away Alba’s

effort.