Pressure does strange things to even the most experience team. Take, for example, Manchester United’s Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Bayern, European champions and Bundesliga kings with six weeks of the season remaining, should already be out of sight. After all, not only did the Bavarian side create 16 chances at Old Trafford last week, but dominated three-quarters of the possession too.
Germany profligacy and United’s dogged defensive approach secured a 1-1 draw that, one week on, has created a new sense of momentum in Moyes’ camp, no matter how brief it may prove to be. Meanwhile, in the opposite dugout, pressure is building on Pep Guardiola for almost the first time this season.
The smart money remains on Bayern securing passage through to the Champions League semi-finals, of course, with United required to win in Munich or score at least twice to progress. Only Hoffenheim, in a dead rubber, and Manchester City, in another meaningless fixture, have achieved either result this season.
Yet, United’s draw with Guardiola’s outfit has created doubt where none seemingly existed before; not least with Bayern suffering a first defeat in 53 games at the weekend, albeit with a heavily rotated side. And with the hosts missing two key players for Wednesday night’s game, United travel to Munich with more than a little hope.
“In the quarter-finals you never have a second chance,” Guardiola said on Tuesday.
“The pressure is high and we always have done well in this situation. It is all about small tactical details. Our players know, after the experience in Manchester, how United play. They know their strength and weaknesses.
“Before the first game at Old Trafford, everybody was just talking about Bayern. But now people know that Manchester can win in Munich. I think they will sit very deep. They play very defensively and always look to counter – it is something they do very, very well.”
Moyes, meanwhile, has cut a more upbeat figure after the Reds followed up the draw against Bayern with victory over Newcastle United at the weekend. After all, while devastating losses to Manchester City and Liverpool hurt supporters in recent weeks, European performances together with United’s domestic form on-the-road, has probably saved the Scot’s job.
Defeat to Olympiakos in Athens aside, Moyes’ side has secured a series of positive results in Europe, although it will take the best of the Scot’s managerial career if United is to reach the semi-final.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Second leg, quarter-final of the Champions League with the opportunity to reach the semi-finals. It’s a massive game, one all the players are looking forward to,” said Moyes on Tuesday.
“We’ll do everything we can to reach the semis. It’s the hardest task because of the level of the competition, the level of the opposition and the stage of the competition. Of course it’s the hardest game.
“I expect us to play better than in the first leg. We’ll need a good performance from everybody. We can’t have any passengers. We will have to win this ‘final’ to get to the next stage. It is like a cup final, even if it is just the second leg.”
Both sides face injury challenges ahead of Wednesday’s match though. Guardiola’s side is without the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez, while Thiago Alcántara is missing with a knee complaint.
Reserves Diego Contento, Xherdan Shaqiri, together with goalkeepers Tom Starke and Lucas Raeder. will all miss the game through injury. It means that 19-year-old Leopold Zingerle, reserve keeper for Bayern’s under-23 side in the fourth-tier regional league, will sit on the bench.
Meanwhile, Moyes is sweating on Wayne Rooney, who missed United’s win at Newcastle with what was described as a “bruised toe”. Speculation that Rooney has in fact broken a bone in his foot was not confirmed by the club, although the Scouser is likely to play with pain killing injections either way.
Ashley Young was substituted after 18 minutes at the weekend, although the England international trained on Tuesday, unlike Rafael da Silva and Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian should be fit, although Robin van Persie will miss another month, and possibly the season’s remainder, with a thigh problem.
“Wayne was able to train and he is massively keen to play,” said Moyes. “He’s not trained all week so we have to be wary of that. We’ll do everything we possibly can. He’s happy to take an injection to play in the game, which shows you his feeling about the game.
“We wouldn’t do anything medically wrong. We’ve taken advice from the doctors and the people who advise us. Everybody knows the type of character Wayne is and he is determined to play.”
Elsewhere, Moyes has crucial decisions to make both about personnel and United’s approach to a game in which the visitors need a positive result. United’s defensive strategy at Old Trafford ceded more than 75 per cent possession to the opposition, while Bayern created almost three times as many chances.
Shinji Kagawa’s impressive performances in recent domestic fixtures have earned the Japanese playmaker an opportunity in United’s biggest game of the season. Whether Moyes concurs is an open question, with United still likely to pack central midfield and trust to a break or set-piece to secure the crucial goal.
Phil Jones and captain Nemanja Vidić could start in central defence, while Danny Welbeck, Ryan Giggs, Fellaini and Darren Fletcher are all in contention to start. Indeed, the Scottish midfielder more than most is hoping for a positive result in Munich; Fletcher missed out on the Champions League final in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“For whatever reasons, I’ve not managed to play in a final,” said the Scot.
“Different circumstances have prevented me from playing in three of them. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a small boy to play in a Champions League final and winning tomorrow night takes us into the semi-finals and gets you closer to achieving that.
“It’s more important that the club and team get there than individuals and, if the team get there, then you do your best in the games and hope that you’re selected to play. The most important thing for us is to win tomorrow night and get ourselves in the semi-finals, then we’ll take it from there.”
And whatever the selection, history is perhaps on United’s side even if the bookies make Bayern odds-on favourites to progress. Bayern’s home record this season in ominous, but the southern German giants have failed to win any of the last four fixtures against English sides in Munich.
Just a little more pressure for Guardiola to ponder.
Bayern Munich v Manchester United, Champions League, Allianz Arena, 7.45pm, 9 April 2014
Bayern (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Rafinha, Dante, Boateng, Alaba; Lahm, Kroos; Ribéry, Götze, Robben; Mandžukić
United (4-5-1): De Gea; Smalling, Vidić, Jones, Evra; Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Fletcher, Welbeck; Rooney
Bayern: Zingerle, Van Buyten, Badstuber, Weiser, Højbjerg, Schöpf, Green, Pizarro, Müller, Weihrauch
United: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Ferdinand, Young, Cleverley, Kagawa, Nani, Giggs, Januzaj, Hernández
Head to Head
Bayern 3 Draw 5 United 2
Match Officials (SWE)
Referee: Jonas Eriksson
Assistant referees: Mathias Klasenius, Daniel Wärnmark
Additional assistant referees: Stefan Johannesson, Markus Strömbergsson
Fourth official: Daniel Gustavsson
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