The last time Bayern Munich traveled to Old Trafford, they found themselves 3-0 down in less than 20 minutes, only to claw their way back into the game thanks, in no small part, to Rafael’s sending off, before Arjen Robben’s wonder strike ensured they’d progress to the semifinal.
Such heroics are not likely to be needed tonight, when the German and European champions face United in what is arguably the most unbalanced of the four quarter finals and will likely prove to be the Reds’ last Champions League at Old Trafford for who knows how long.
David Moyes has boldly claimed that United don’t fear their German counterparts, despite the fact that Bayern are widely regarded as the best team in Europe and despite the fact they’re managed by one of the best managers of the modern era. Perhaps Moyes has decided to finally replace defeatism with defiance, perhaps he knows his future has already been decided and wants to go down swinging or maybe his lack of experience at this level has altered his perception.
This, make no mistake, is a huge game for United. One from which they’re not expected to get anything out of, bar a dignified defeat to earn a couple of consolatory headlines in tomorrow’s paper, for the gulf in quality between the two sides is astounding. In fact, one’d have to go back all the way to Barcelona in 1994 and Juventus in 1996 to find the last time United were so far behind their opponents in a European tie.
Bayern have been mesmerising in the last two seasons and even though, under Pep Guardiola, their game is slightly less direct than it was under Jupp Heynckes they didn’t even have to get out of third gear to suffocate Arsenal at the Emirates – not to mention the footballing lesson they taught the Quadruplers earlier this season – and even without Dante and Thiago, they remain a formidable side.
Furthermore, history book don’t make for comfortable reading either. United might have won the most important fixture between the two sides, but were twice knocked out at this stage of the competitions by the Germans.
Bayern have an attacking football philosophy embodied into their players, two of the best wingers in the world and a plethora of quality midfielders that should be deemed illegal at this level. In short, they have everything United do not possess and the thought of Chris Smalling and Alex Buttner fronting Franck Ribery and Arjen Robbem doesn’t bear thinking about.
Against Liverpool and Manchester City, United paid the highest price for their tentative approach and given that there’s as much chances of Moyes tactically outwitting Guardiola than there are of Tom Cleverley becoming a better player than Mario Gotze, United might as well go down fighting.
Wayne Rooney is certain of a starting spot, as should Danny Welbeck, who has a knack for scoring in big games and whose work rate could be extremely handy tonight. Behind them, one between Januzaj and Kagawa must start, for Bayern will be without their two regular centre-backs and United must cling onto every glimmer of hope tonight.
The midfield blanket remains agonisingly too short. A three-man midfield of Fellaini, Carrick and Giggs would offer more ideas but deprive United of some much needed speed, while a two-man midfield with Valencia or Young alongside Welbeck and Januzaj could turn Fellaini’s night into an absolute nightmare.
Tonight is the sort of night we’d have nervously relished under Fergie, while we’ve come to dread these occasions under Moyes. We could prove everybody wrong or we could be on the receiving end of another atrocious hiding but, realistically, if we’re still in the tie after tonight then we’ll have done well.
One thing is sure, it won’t be pretty. Buckle up.