Manchester United head into the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich in German with key players Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney fit to start after the pair sat out Saturday’s 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers. Instead, it is Bayern with cause for concern as wingers Arjen Robben and Franc Ribéry sweat on fitness.
Winners on away goals over Fiorentina in the previous round and due to play the second leg at Old Trafford in a little over a week’s time, the odds seem stacked against the Southern German side.
Indeed, United start the tie as hot favourites to reach a third successive Champions League semi-final after the humiliation handed out by Sir Alex Ferguson’s to AC Milan in the round of 16.
Ribéry has suffered with tendinitis for long periods this season, while Robben is struggling with a calf strain, although the Frenchman is more likely to make the side.
But Bayern, dubbed FC Hollywood in the past due to an ego-ridden dressing room, has lost little in confidence despite the concern over the star wingers’ fitness.
“This Manchester United team is not invincible,” said former Chelsea and Real Madrid winger Robben, who believes United is overly reliant on Wayne Rooney.
“If the press want to see them as favourites then that suits us because all the pressure will be on them.”
“I have watched them on television many times recently and their team is certainly not as powerful as it was in the last two years.”
“Rooney has been phenomenal this season. But at the moment he seems to be their only solution. He has become the star of the side since the sale of Ronaldo last summer but we will be prepared to stop him.
“They are almost a one-man team so our defenders will give him 180 minutes of non-stop distraction.”
The focus on Rooney could mean abandoning Bayern’s man-to-man marking system, with Ferguson certain to deploy the Scouser centrally in a three-man attack. The former Evertonian will lead the line, with Dimitar Berbatov’s brace at Bolton on Saturday unlikely to save the striker from a place on the bench.
Ferguson will choose between Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia in wide areas, with Michael Carrick set to return to central midfield and Park Ji-Sung a possible starter in an advanced midfield role.
John O’Shea, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Owen missed the trip to Germany, although the former could make United’s squad for the weekend fixture against Chelsea.
Should Bayern lose Robben and Ribéry, manager Louis van Gaal is likely to stick with Thomas Müller and Ivica Olic in the front three. Each started the German’s 2-1 loss to VfB Stuttgart at the weekend that has left van Gaal’s side two points of leaders Schalke in the Bundesliga.
Meanwhile, striker Mario Gomez will start on the bench due to a lack of match fitness, while star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger misses the game through suspension.
Ferguson admitted that Schweinsteiger’s absence is “a bonus” for United, although the Scot plans include both Robben and Ribéry in the opposition line-up.
“Whether Ribery or Robben will play, I don’t know,” Ferguson said.
“But I have to plan for that. Those two players are special in Bayern’s setup.”
“We’re picking a team that we think is right for tomorrow. On Saturday I’ve got to think differently. We need to get this one over with first.”
“I respect Bayern Munich and have a great admiration for them. You’re playing history. Teams with history have a certain pride and we have to contend with that tomorrow.”
United: van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Park; Valencia, Rooney, Nani.
Subs from: Kuszczak, Rafael, Evans, Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Berbatov, Macheda, De Laet, Foster