Danny Welbeck opened the scoring early on for Sir Alex Ferguson's side with a deft header following a Wayne Rooney corner, but Cristiano Ronaldo leveled things out not long after with a headed goal of his own.
Both sides had plenty of chances in an action-packed second 45 minutes, but the game finished locked at 1-1.
Here are the player ratings for the Red Devils in a match more nail-biting than it was entertaining. Luckily for the referee, he's not included:
David de Gea: 9
Kept the scoreline respectable at times with some outstanding full-stretch saves, particularly one to deny Fabio Coentrao early on in the game.
If there are still some that doubt the Spaniard's position as United's long-term No. 1, such voices will never be satisfied.
Had a torrid first half trying to contain a marauding Cristiano Ronaldo. He looked a little shaky and was caught out of position on several occasions.
Improved a great deal in the second 45 minutes, as his side dealt with the barrage of Real attacks.
Rio Ferdinand: 8
Picked in the place of the absent Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand brought a good deal of experience to the Red Devils' back line, but the Serbian's presence was still missed.
Nevertheless, Ferdinand only improved as the game wore on, making some key blocks and preventing Los Blancos from breaking beyond the line.
Jonny Evans: 7
Deserved to start the game due to his recent displays at the heart of Sir Alex's side's defence, but looked a little lost without his preferred partner of Vidic in the first half.
He may look like a rake, but Evans has become surprisingly reliable in aerial situations. He was much improved later in the game.
Patrice Evra: 6
Was out-jumped by a good couple of feet by Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half header for Real. But didn't really make any glaring mistakes during the match.
Was brought down by Raphael Varane early in the second half when it seemed he was through on goal, but the referee failed to award a foul that surely deserved a red card for his French compatriot.
Phil Jones: 7
It seemed for everyone's money before the game that Phil Jones' inclusion in the starting XI was to man-mark Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game.
But with the Portuguese star constantly drifting from a central position to the left flank, Jones was left looking a little out of place in the first half..
He was far more effective in the second half, providing a sturdy, physical body in the central midfield. One of United's best performers.
Michael Carrick: 6
Unfortunately for the recently resurgent Michael Carrick, he was dominated for much of the game in the middle of the park.
Struggled to settle into his natural style, but will be needed in a couple of weeks to perform in his more familiar surroundings of Old Trafford.
Danny Welbeck: 7
Seemed to be having a quiet first half until he popped up in the box from out of nowhere to score the game's opening goal.
Held the ball up well when he had to and fought hard even though he is still far from being the finished product. Might be sweating to get into the team for the second leg at Old Trafford, though.
Shinji Kagawa: 6
Worked tirelessly in a congested midfield, making the kind of short, quick passes that fans associate him with. He was perhaps outmuscled when it mattered most, though.
Drifted in and out of the game in the second half as he has a tendency to do, but was never particularly disappointing to his team.
Wayne Rooney: 6
Looked frustrated for a good deal of the first half as the midfield battle went against him.
The Englishman was not as influential as he can be against Real, but his quality at the heart of the pitch will be needed in the second leg.
Robin van Persie: 6
The Dutchman was a constant threat in attack for the Red Devils, even if he appeared a little isolated at times.
Spurned a golden chance when fed one-on-one with Diego Lopez with 20 minutes to play, scuffing his shot from a chance he puts away 99 percent of the time.
Ryan Giggs: 7
Brought on for Kagawa with a little under a half hour remaining on the clock, the veteran Welshman brought a calming stability to the pitch that was missing for United. Should have scored late on, though.
Antonio Valencia: N/A
When the ball was played out to his right flank, the Ecuadorian winger's touch let him down a couple of times during his brief cameo.
Didn't have much of an impact on the game in the small amount of time afforded him.
How would you rate Manchester United's players against Real?