After all the doom-mongering that preceded Manchester United’s clash with Bayern Munich, David Moyes’ men actually did rather well at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, and with the tie finely poised at 1-1 ahead of the return leg at the Allianz Arena next Wednesday, the Red Devils are still in this one.
Bayern began precisely as everyone thought they would, their metronomic tika-taka football ensuring they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. However, despite all of the superlatives that have been written about Guardiola’s men this season, it has to be said that aside from their ability to keep the ball, the German champions offered little going forward. I have been a fervent critic of David Moyes, but at Old Trafford, the Scot’s side illustrated perfectly that possession means almost nothing if it doesn’t result in the ball in the net.
As we know, the German’s style of play has been transported from the Barcelona gameplan, and whilst I can only speak for myself when I say this, it’s boring. Until Mario Mandzukic came on in the 64th minute, Guardiola’s men played their frustrating blend of football with no striker, playing keep ball, and pinging the ball around the edge of the penalty area with zero penetration. It might be effective most of the time, but it sure is dull to watch. When we compare the way that a high-pressing energetic side like Liverpool play the game, it’s hard not to feel frustrated when one watches Bayern. With the players at their disposal, they have the ability to play some scintillating football, but that really wasn’t on display on Tuesday.
What was most odd about how Bayern chose to play against United was that they had two very recent examples of how to really steamroller Moyes’ side on their own patch. In the last three weeks, Manchester City and Liverpool have both torn United apart at Old Trafford, and one would think that Guardiola may have learnt a little bit about how to approach the game from watching the tapes of those walkovers.
Instead, it seemed like there was a whiff of arrogance from Guardiola and his troops that seemed to say, “We’re European champions, and we’ll play how we want to play”. Instead of the high-intensity pressing game favoured by Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, that relies on less possession and more turnovers, Bayern played the same way that they always play and struggled to break down United in their own half.
Of course, a draw at Old Trafford is no disaster for Bayern, and they will take their away goal back to Germany confident that they will progress to the semi-final, but it just seemed rather foolish of the reigning champions not to alter their game in order to have a better chance of hurting their opponents. United have thrived away from home this season, in backs-to-the-wall fixtures where they have put eleven men behind the ball, and Bayern effectively gave them the opportunity to play like the away team.
Having said all this, Bayern could, and should have won the game. The one time that they decided that it might be worth trying to get behind the United back four, they equalised, and it’s difficult not to feel that had they committed to this approach more often, they would have run out victors on the night.
United certainly enjoyed the rub of the green too, with Antonio Valencia getting away with a nasty two-footed challenge and Wayne Rooney diving to ensure that Bastian Schweinsteiger was dismissed and will miss the second leg in Munich. The Germans will now miss the midfielder as well as Javi Martinez in next week’s clash.
So what does this tell us about where United are at? To be honest, not a lot. They were a distant second best and yet managed to squeak through the game with a sniff of a chance next week, and for that United fans will be very grateful. Despite a decent performance on Tuesday, the reality is that United have regressed spectacularly from the side that used to be able to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite. The demise started long before David Moyes took over, and without some serious investment, the chance of United adding to their two Champions League titles anytime soon is infinitesimal.
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