Why we shouldn't write off Manchester United's European chances just yet
David Moyes’ Manchester United can cause an upset on their travels to the Allianz Arena this evening with the tie perfectly poised for a fairy-tale story line.
The Scot has endured a frustrating debut campaign in charge of Untied with the reigning Premier League champions languishing in sixth place in the table, though continental competition has proved fruitful for the former Everton manager so far. Despite Pep Guardiola’s side being huge favourites for the tie, the Red Devils gave themselves a semi-final chance in the first leg, earning a deserved 1-1 with the reigning European Champions just eight days previously.
Saturday’s stunning 4-0 victory over Newcastle will have given the team an important confidence boost ahead of their tie with the German champions. Coming off the back of a resounding 4-0 victory the side’s morale will be sky high. Unfortunately, the weekend’s star man, Juan Mata, is cup-tied for this evening’s match, but the psychological boost provided by his two goals just four days ago will be taken into battle with the Bavarians. Despite being unavailable, the Spaniard will be travelling with his team to Munich – a sign of just how united the side is in their quest for success.
United’s hopes are also heightened by the news of Wayne Rooney’s timely return to fitness. Despite struggling with a toe injury, the Red Devil’s talisman is set to feature. We have seen the best from the 28-year-old in recent weeks, with a string of goals since his return to his favoured ‘number 9’ role. He could prove the difference between the two sides if he brings his magic touch to the Allianz. He has produced the goods in Europe in the past and there’s no reason to say he won’t do so again.
In his pre-match press conference, Guardiola highlighted the threat posed by the Englishman, “Wayne Rooney is the key man for United. He always makes himself available, he goes looking for the ball, he takes the free-kicks and corners, and he’s always good for a goal.”
However it must be said, it’s imperative the visitors approach this evening’s game with the same mentality as at Old Trafford. Despite certain absences Bayern will continue to dominate possession, forcing United to play just as deep as before. Therefore it is vital that Moyes’ men play with the same tempo as last match, attacking on the counter as quickly as possible. This proved hugely effective against Munich just eight days previously, with the team’s best chances arising from this tactic.
The speed at which the ball is moved from defence to attack will prove key, but it’s also important that the forward make the most of their opportunities in the final third, something they failed to do in the first leg. Danny Welbeck was the star of the show when the two sides last clashed. Deployed in a forward duo, alongside Wayne Rooney, the English striker caused considerable problems for the Bayern defence due to his pace and athleticism. But even he missed a number of goal scoring chances. With the chances Welbeck had after getting behind the Bayern defence, United could have had a lead to take into the second leg. Obviously, he failed to take them, but it is important that United continue to look for his runs on Wednesday, and try to get him behind the two Bayern centre-halves. It’s essential that Moyes uses him in the correct manner.
We’ve witnessed an incredible experimentation with tactics at Old Trafford since the Scot took the reins at the beginning of the season, however in such an important occasion the players need to stick to what they know. Pep Guardiola is a tactical genius after all, as many are already aware. It’s highly conceivable that the he will have prepared his Bayern side for a repeat United performance after recurrently studying the footage of last Tuesday’s match. With this in mind, Moyes will need to be clever, but realistic, in his use of key players.
Guardiola does have a number of selection problems though, notably the suspension of Germany midfielder Schweinsteiger and defender Javi Martinez after they were cautioned in the first leg. The Spanish coach is also missing Swiss winger Shaqiri after he picked up a thigh injury in the defeat by Augsburg. He joins the injured Thiago Alcantara, Diego Contento, Tom Starke, Lukas Raeder and Holger Badstuber on the sidelines. Whilst it’s a well-documented notion that even a second-string Bayern side is capable of striking fear into the biggest sides in Europe, these frailties prove yet another positive for the Red Devils. Facing any Bayern side is a menacing prospect, but the loss of their absolute elite players will surely provide a glimmer of satisfaction for the travelling team.
Schweinsteiger, in particular, proved key in the last match, dominating the midfield battle before scoring his side’s equaliser. The 29-year-old is arguably the best player in the world in his position and the Bavarians will miss his presence this evening. His suspension is, of course, marred by debate over the manner in which he was dismissed in last week’s fixture. The incident occurred in the closing seconds – he had already received a first warning – as he lunged at Wayne Rooney on the edge of the United penalty area. Although he appeared to make minimal contact with the striker, the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, deemed it a second yellow card offence, so issued the 29-year-old with the red.
Ultimately, it will be impossible for David Moyes to out-smart Pep Guardiola. Instead it is absolutely vital he plays to his teams strengths. He must realise that Bayern will set out to dominate possession and, with this in mind, he must counter with intent. In order for the Red Devils to take anything from the visit to the Allianz we need to see the side playing with the same positivity and willingness in attack, just as we saw in the first leg. Only then will they stand a chance of progressing to the Champions League semi-finals.
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