It is, in many respects, a game that David Moyes cannot lose. Drawn against the ever-improving European champions, some bookmakers have Moyes’ Manchester United at 6-1 to beat the Germans at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. There can be only a handful of occasions in the past 20 years when such long odds could be found on United securing a result at home.
Yet, this is a reflection of the campaign to date. Moyes’ side has lost 13 times in all competitions this season; that’s as many games as Bayern coach Pep Guardiola has lost in four years. Seven of those defeats – six in the Premier League – have come at Old Trafford; more than the previous three campaigns combined.
Meanwhile, Bayern have failed to win on just seven occasions all season, being held to five draws and two losses. Or to put it another way, while United has retrenched under Moyes’ stewardship this season, Bayern has flourished under Guardiola’s management, with the Spanish coach securing an 84 per cent win rate this season.
Four years on from the last meeting between these sides – and Arjen Robben’s outstanding volleyed goal – Bayern is a superior outfit and United a shadow of the former team.
So much for all the talk of finding a path to match Barcelona after those dual Champions League final defeats to Guardiola’s Catalans in 2009 and 2011. Barça has been usurped as the continent’s best, of course, but United has not reached the same level again. On the current path, it may be years before the Reds feature in another continental final.
Still, Moyes has talked a bullish game this week; victory over Aston Villa filling the Scot full of more confidence than might be understandable after a dismal campaign. In Moyes’ predicament he’ll take the highs when they’re on offer.
Then there’s United’s form in Europe this season, which has seen the Reds lose just the once in the Champions League to date – the embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos in Athens.
“It’s been a very good competition for us so far in my short time here, and now we’ve got the ultimate test in Bayern Munich,” said Moyes on Monday.
“I think the pressure is equally balanced because we want to win the game as much as they do. We go into the game knowing, on our day, we are as good a side as any. We have to show it more often but I have got great belief in the players. I get the feeling all the players want to play. In training, their attitude suggests they all want to play in the big games and this is a big game.”
Still, Moyes is without key players for the 13th meeting between these two European giants. Robin van Persie could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, Juan Mata is cup tied in Europe, and Patrice Evra is suspended for the first leg in Manchester.
Rafael da Silva faces a late fitness test after coming off at half-time against Villa on Saturday. Ominously the Brazilian missed training on Monday.
However, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans both took part in a light session, although neither is likely to be match fit. The Irishman hasn’t played since early February, while Smalling has been in, but mostly out of the side in recent weeks.
With the rash of defensive absences Dutchman Alexander Büttner could start at left-back, while Jones will move to the right if Rafael proves unfit. It could mean a recall for Rio Ferdinand, or another appearance for Michael Carrick in the back four.
Further forward Moyes has a big call to make replacing Mata, with Kagawa pressing for a starting role after impressing against the Brummies, while Adnan Januzaj has been under-used in recent matches.
However, with Champions League qualification unlikely next season, Moyes’ priority remains Europe where a respectable result over two legs could secure the Scot’s job come the season’s dénouement. Matching Bayern man-for-man in a 4-2-3-1 system seems atypical to Moyes’ thinking, pushing fit-again Antonio Valencia, alongside Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs, into the frame for Tuesday’s match.
“It’s an obvious thing to say but it’s a two-legged tie and we have to make sure both games are important,” said Moyes.
“We’re mindful we want to go to Germany with every opportunity to go through so there’s always a bit of caution in the first leg. But we’d love to go to Germany with a win under our belts because it would set us up nicely.”
Meanwhile, the European champions arrive in Manchester without key midfielder Thiago Alcántara, who suffered a partial ligament tear in his right knee Bayern’s during 3-3 draw with Hoffenheim at the weekend. The Spaniard has become central to Guardiola’s plans this season following at £21 million move from Barcelona in the summer.
However, such are the riches on offer at Bayern that Guardiola may still field Bastian Schweinsteider, Toni Kroos, and Phillipe Lahm in central midfield at Old Trafford. Defender Dante is suspended so Spaniard Javier Martinez is likely to drop into the back four.
Such is Bayern’s strength that World Cup-bound German internationals Thomas Müller and Mario Götze may not make the Guardiola’s starting team.
Whatever the selection Bayern remain strong favourites to progress over two-legs, with Moyes likely to come under real pressure only if the newly re-crowned German champions run up a cricket score. That is, of course, possible given Bayern’s form this season, although Guardiola is keen to play down his side’s chances of running amok in Manchester.
“We are up against Manchester United and they are one of the most important clubs in the world, regardless of their current situation,” said Guardiola, who has been on the losing side just twice as Bayern coach.
“I know deep in my heart which team we are going to face. Maybe they have not had a good season in the Premier League, but in the Champions League they beat Leverkusen, they have won many important games. But when I see Rooney, when I see Ferdinand, when I see Vidić, when I see Ryan Giggs, when I see Chicharito, Welbeck, I know them all too well.”
The same can be said for Bayern’s likely starting team of course; each an outstanding and recognisable part of Europe’s finest side. Indeed, United’s chances may well be limited without injury and suspension disrupting Moyes’ back-four.
“Everyone knows it’s hard, that’s why I am saying we have to play with real quality,” said Rafael. “We have to do 200% or 300% to win.”
Manchester United v Bayern Munich, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm, 1 April 2014
United (4-5-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidić, Buttner; Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Giggs, Welbeck; Rooney
Bayern (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Rafinha, Martinez, Boateng, Alaba; Lahm, Schweinsteiger; Ribéry, Kroos, Robben; Mandžukić
United: Lindegaard, Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Young, Fletcher, Januzaj, Kagawa, Nani, Hernandez
Bayern: Starke, Van Buyten, Badstuber, Shaqiri, Götze, Weiser, Højbjerg, Pizarro, Müller
Head to Head
United 2 Draw 4 Bayern 3
Match Officials (ESP)
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
Assistant referees: Roberto Alonso, Juan Yuste
Additional assistant referees: Carlos Gómez, Carlos Del Cerro
Fourth official: Pau Cebrian Devis
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