Manchester United’s performance in the Champions League has sparked the usual reactions both positive and negative from supporters and foes alike. Looking at the performance as a whole, let’s take a look at what united did right and perhaps what needs to be done if the red of Manchester is to do what seemed almost an impossibility only 48 hours ago.
As an avid Manchester United fan, I have been bemused at the level of performance the players of Manchester United have been producing. The easy option is to blame the manager who at times has looked lost for ideas on the sideline, but responsibility must also be shifted towards the players! For too long they have looked disinterested and unmotivated to surge forward and do justice to the legendary shirt they wear. As a fan I can accept a poor game, but what I and every Manchester United fan out there wants to see is the players giving 110% all the time. On Tuesday evening a different united stepped onto the pitch. Confident and motivated they showed that sometimes you don’t need to have the highest level of quality, at times bags of desire will give you that extra edge. It is imperative for Manchester United to therefore keep momentum going into next weeks second leg starting with a positive result in the somewhat dead-rubber match against Newcastle over the weekend.
There can be no doubting the impact the United faithful had on the outcome of Tuesdays leg at Old Trafford, to follow that old cliche… They were most certainly the extra man, almost sucking the ball into the net after a near inch perfect Wayne Rooney corner found the head of Vidic. Munich will most certainly be a completely different environment and it is there that the reds will be given perhaps their sternest test of the season. United can therefore not rely on the fans, it is all up to them. It’s important to note that the usual tactics when playing away from home seem to be, keep the ball from the opposition and silence the crowd. After Bayern’s mesmerizing ball retention skills were put on display in the Theater of Dreams, the red devils will have to endure long spells of defending which in turn will keep the Bayern faithful vibrant and loud from the very first whistle. It is therefore evident that the obstacle of putting in an away performance on this stage against this special Munich side, may very well be the greatest challenge of all.
When talking about pace it is intended from both perspectives. On Tuesday’s tie at Old Trafford, We put forward a team who, with the exception of the evergreen Giggs and the questionable Fellaini, were packed with enough energy and pace to hurt Bayern Munich on the counter attack, more of the same in the next leg for me. Possibly two changes, if Chris Smalling or Rafael find there way to fitness before this game, I would like to see Jones shifted into that midfield role at the expense of Fellaini. On the other end of the spectrum, Bayern Munich seemed slightly more one dimensional in their approach to the game, trying intricate triangles and slow build up play which at the end of the day gave Manchester United the opportunity to get players behind the ball and close down space. This is a direct contrast to the Bayern team which swept Europe aside last season, they were quick direct and unforgiving. Manchester United must be aware that if that Bayern Munich team turns up, it will become a different proposition and if I were Guardiola I would be imploring my team to shift from defense into attack as quickly as possible to try exploit any and every weakness inside this United team.
Yes, Manchester United have to score to go through and yes, that means the incentive is on their side to push forward and of course this translates into more space at the back for Bayern Munich to exploit. Lets however be systematic in this interpretation, Manchester United do not need to score in the first minute of the game, they need to score at any point in the game, in some ways the later the better. When a team scores to go ahead in a big game such as this, the tendency is to sit back and hang onto what you have, which against this Bayern team could be considered suicidal as they will exploit any opportunity they are given. It becomes of the utmost importance that Manchester United change nothing for the next encounter. More of the same for me! Stay patient, wait for the opportunity and when it comes, which it will, take it! That’s all Manchester United can do, it won’t be easy but it is by no means an impossibility. We have player on the bench who can come on and make a difference, so the positive is that there are options, the test is how these options are used. Make no mistake, Bayern have no reason to chase this game, so in the early stages it is going to be tiring and mentally frustrating but United must hold their shape and be ready to pounce wherever they can. If United are to get through, the nerves of the fans will be on edge from the very first whistle, somewhat indicative of that famous semi-final tie against Barcelona, if we can somehow keep a clean sheet, we only need one goal, one moment, one mistake, one chance!
My prediction (heart vs head)
This is perhaps the hardest part of the article to write as I must be objective and take my heart out of the equation, so this is what I believe will happen. Bayern Munich are a team that possess unrivaled ability, team ethic, belief, confidence and have the individual talent at their disposal to produce a moment of magic to break the hearts of red devils fans around the world. Expect them to be calm and methodical, waiting for the opportunity to pounce and expect them to take full advantage if they are given the chance. United will sit back and be patient, waiting to catch the Germans on the counter-attack with the pace of Danny Welbeck and sublime accuracy of passing in both Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick. Expect allot of balls to be played behind the back four of Munich and it is hard to imagine that there won’t be a chance created for United. It is all going to come down to whether or not that chance is taken. If United can make and seize an opportunity the travelling faithful could be in for a special night. If however, United panic, push too many men forward, waste opportunities and give the ball away in silly positions, Munich will punish them. If Mandzukic starts then Bayern will posses a greater threat in the air as he is strong and clinical when given great service(which should not be an issue seeing as Robben and Ribery occupy those wide areas). For United, the goal is to stay in the tie as long as possible and with 30 minutes to go, provided the score is 0-0 or even 1-0 to Munich, push men forward and just give it all they have and believe in their ability. So here it is, Unfortunately my head says Bayern Munich may just have too much for United second time round but my heart tells me that this is Manchester United and our responsibility is to get behind our boys and back them no matter what!
Key for United: stay calm and never stop believing
Prediction: 1-1 Extra time and penalties.