Tag Bayer Leverkusen

Tag Bayer Leverkusen

Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility

November 29, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion 20 comments
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There was something especially beautiful about Manchester United’s performance in Germany this week. True, the Reds have struck five before and there have undoubtedly been better performances, even on the road. And there will certainly be bigger games and finer opponents this season. Yet, there is a sense that United’s thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen is a seminal juncture in David Moyes’ tenure at Old Trafford. The lightbulb moment; an apple falling dead straight from the tree.

It has nothing to do with old cliches either. United will find confidence from the result, of course, although Premier League champions should not normally lack for it. No, the moment that made United’s victory in Germany’s industrial heartland was Moyes’ decision, finally, to trust Shinji Kagawa as the team’s principle playmaker. Boy did it work.

Kagawa didn’t make the Reds’ victory alone of course. Wayne Rooney excelled in having a hand in four of the visitors’ goals. Ryan Giggs was outstanding two days short of his 40th birthday. And Nani was his brilliant mercurial best in whatever position he chose fit to take up on the night.

Yet, only Kagawa was truly transformative; the Japanese player’s presence seemingly fundamentally altering United’s style. Gone was the staid, predictable movement of the Reds’ depressing performance at Cardiff City on Sunday. In its wake came Kagawa’s drive in the transition from defence to attack and a freedom to make those incisive thrusts from almost anywhere on the pitch.

United’s opening goal is the Kagawa effect in microcosm – the burst of pace to beat Stefan Reinartz, a reverse pass snapped to Ryan Giggs, with Rooney and Antonio Valencia completing an incisive move. In that moment the Japanese offered not only pace to the attack, but an unpredictable variety rarely seen in any other member of Moyes’ squad. How can the Scot even contemplate leaving the former Borussia Dortmund player out now?

It this observation there is no attempt to belittle Rooney’s contribution on the night, which was excellent, nor that of Robin van Persie, who has underpinned the team’s success over the past 18 months. But there was certainly a feeling in the BayArena late on Wednesday night that if Kagawa cannot command a more regular spot at the heart of United’s attack now, then he surely never will.

Each of United’s front four was outstanding, but the Japanese turned out to be the catalyst for change.

“It was a pleasure to play behind that front four,” said Giggs in the aftermath.

“It really clicked and we could have scored more goals, but we mustn’t be too greedy. To score five goals anywhere in Europe has got to be be classed as a good result. Our speed was key, we really killed Leverkusen on the counter attack. The first goal was a prime example of that – really quick play. It was a real pleasure to play the game.”

In that there is also a sadness. Melancholy that stems from a realisation that Kagawa’s lot is surely confined to United’s left, injuries notwithstanding. Indeed, it would take a tactical transformation of a nature anathema to Moyes to bring Kagawa, Rooney and van Persie into the team in positions familiar to each of the trio.

Kagawa is likely to return to United’s left at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday with van Persie returning. At the crux of the matter a simple fact: in most formations three of Rooney, van Persie and Kagawa into two slots simply won’t go. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s wasn’t prepared to make that compromise either in his final season with the club.

Indeed, fans must cast the mind back to the Reds’ formation in 2008 for the last time any United side lined up with the kind of formation that might suit Kagawa. The Reds’ front trio of Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez offer a pointer to perhaps the only way that Moyes could cram his most potent attacking options into one team – a flexible front three comprising a Scouser, a Japanese and a Dutchman.

Still, it was a Scot who gave little away post-match, with a nagging sense remaining that Moyes’ philosophy is predominantly pragmatic, rather than erring on the side of creativity. Kagawa played in the hole in Germany, it seems, not because of the metamorphic effect on United’s tactics, but that it was Moyes’ best option with an injury effected squad.

“It is a long season and we are going to have to make sure we have different combinations for different games and tonight Shinji and Wayne played well,” said Moyes late on Wednesday.

“Sometimes Wayne might need to play up front and Shinji will play behind. We have to make sure we have alternatives. Shinji was excellent tonight but he’s also good on the left.”

In that Moyes will make a fascinating choice in north London on Sunday, with Giggs earning a rest and Marouanne Fellaini set to rejoin the team for the Reds’ visit to White Hart Lane.

The Belgian is far less dynamic than the Welshman even with 15 less years on the clock. Should van Persie return, and Kagawa once again find himself constrained on the left, there is surely ample risk that United’s approach will also reek of inhibition as it did in Wales last weekend.

It is a tactical and philosophical conundrum Moyes is yet to fully solve. Least of all, it seems, in his own mind. The former Everton manager is slowly finding his sea legs at Old Trafford, but there are key decisions to come. History says the 50-year-old always ers on the side of caution.

Yet, as former Red Gary Neville once said, United is a club that can transform a manager, as much as the man the institution. Moyes’ heart is conservative, but Kagawa’s performance on Wednesday night will surely chip away just a little more of the granite façade.

“It was one of my best days as Manchester United manager,” admitted Moyes. “We won well, we played well, with some outstanding performances. There will be better days to come.”

In that there is a feeling Moyes controls much of his own destiny: a lesson learned in the BayArea, or a joyous, if ephemeral, performance.

Preview: United v Bayer Leverkusen

September 17, 2013 Tags: , Matches 7 comments
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More than a decade on from Champions League semi-final defeat to Bayer Leverkusen and the memory of a chance lost still lingers. Real Madrid won the tournament, beating the German side in the final through Zinedine Zidane’s outrageous volley. But as close calls go there was much to regret in the manner of Manchester United’s away goals defeat through Oliver Neuville’s late equaliser at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson blamed defeat on nerves; that his player froze under the pressure of a first semi-final since triumphing in 1999. It is an emotional response unlikely to be repeated on Tuesday as United meet Bayer in Manchester, although David Moyes’ first European fixture as the Reds’ manager adds intrigue at least.

Among the current United only Ryan Giggs survives that semi-final – a match that also featured future Red Dimitar Berbatov. The Welshman is likely to be involved a some point on Tuesday, if only from the bench, after sitting out United’s weekend fixture with Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, Phil Neville, now United’s first-team coach, was an 18th-minute substitute for his brother Gary in the first leg.

United’s first outing in Europe under Moyes comes after similar crushing disappointment. Defeat to Real Madrid  in last season’s Round of 16 hurt, although the Reds were far from the best team in the tournament.

Moyes’ appointment also represents a passing of the European mantle. Europe became Ferguson’s raison d’être – the triumphs and defeats defining much of what the Scot acheived with the club over a quarter century. Indeed, it is United’s 19th UEFA Champions League campaign, one more than Barcelona, Real Madrid and FC Porto, although no manager but Sir Alex has led the Reds into continental competition since Ron Atkinson guided United to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in 1984-85.

It is a challenge that the new manager relishes, although he has little European experience to call on. Everton’s sole campaign in the Champions League ended in elimination at the preliminary stage.

And it is likely to be a testing campaign, with United drawn to face Real Sociedad and Shaktar Donetsk in addition to Bayer.

“I’ve been excited about it ever since I’ve joined Manchester United,” said Moyes this week.

“Every game has offered a new challenge and a tough one as well. I’ve been there before with Everton – we didn’t quite make the group stages but this is different. This is a club that’s used to getting to the latter stages.

“I think all groups are tough. It is more unpredictable than it was. We’ve got a leading team from Germany, one from Spain and we go to Donetsk to play Shakhtar. It’s a tough group.”

Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm, 17 September 2013Moyes is set to begin the campaign without some key men. England duo Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones are both doubtful with knee and ankle injuries, while Wayne Rooney will again wear protective head gear after a recent gash to the forehead.

Shinji Kagawa rejoins the squad after a bout of flu, but Nani serves a one-game ban on matchday one following his red card in last season’s second leg against Real Madrid. Youngster Jesse Lingard may come into the party, although the weekend’s star performer, Adnan Januzaj, is not available for selection until October when he qualifies for United’s ‘B’ list.

The game also serves as a first Champions League fixture as a coach for Leverkusen’s Sami Hyypiä, a winner as a player with Liverpool in 2005. It has been a summer of change at the BayArena, with 10 players joining the squad over the transfer window. Sevilla pair Andrés Palop and Emir Spahić join former Bayern Munich youth Emre Can and Fortuna Düsseldorf forward Robbie Kruse in the squad.

However, it is Stefan Kießling that the remains Bayer’s most potent threat. The German striker notched 17 in the Bundesliga last season and a double against Wolfsburg at the weekend.

Midfielder Lars Bender faces a late fitness test on a hip injury, which forced the German international out of Saturday’s fixture and Germany’s World Cup qualifiers last week.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand says that the manner of United’s defeat to Real last season adds no extra motivation ahead of the Champions League’s start. The Reds 2-1 loss at Old Trafford followed Nani’s controversial dismissal – a key refereeing decision that turned the fixture in Real’s favour.

It proved to be a devastating blow for Ferguson, who may attend Tuesday’s match in the director’s box. But as with the Scot’s difficult first few seasons in Europe  – 1991 Cup Winners Cup victory aside – the Reds have some ground to make up on Europe’s best.

Real, Barcelona and champions Bayern Munich start as favourites to win the competition next May, although Paris Saint Germain, Juventus, Manchester City, Chelsea and big-spending Monaco each have legitimate designs on the trophy as well.

“We were all disappointed with what happened last season and how we went out. But we won’t harp on about it,” said 34-year-old Ferdinand.

“We continue and start again afresh this season. New group, new season, new games. Last season is out of our minds and not something we need to use as motivation.”

“If you don’t win the competition you’ve got catching up to do. It’s that simple. If that happens then you have work to do to catch up. Last year we went out in dubious circumstances. Hopefully we can improve this season. Last year we improved on the season before that and hopefully we can improve again.”

United has suffered two disappointing campaigns in succession – a slide in fortunes that has coincided with Bayern Munich’s secession to the head of Europe’s elite. The southern German outfit was the competition’s outstanding team over the period, supplanting Barcelona as the continent’s best.

While Leverkusen is unlikely to threaten Europe’s best the opening match of this season’s campaign should test Moyes’ men.

“The Germans did well last year, the Spanish sides before that. It goes in cycles and hopefully we can start the cycle this season,” adds Ferdinand.

“It probably focuses you a bit more when you have a tough group. You don’t get the chance to rest people, for example. The competition is so competitive and the players are so good and the desire to get into the next stage is so high. Each year you want to qualify for the knockout stage.”

That goal is achievable, especially with United’s ability to compete in central midfield now augmented  by Marouanne Fellaini’s acquisition. The Belgian is sure to start alongside Michael Carrick in midfield.

However, few argue that this United squad falls short of the champion’s wealth of talent. Still, with a new manager in place the fresh campaign comes with renewed incentives and hope. United may not start the campaign as favourites to capture a trophy last secured more than five years ago, but it is a group from which the Reds should emerge.

“I have always wanted to get to the Champions League,” concludes Moyes. “I did everything I possibly could at Everton to reach it and I couldn’t quite make that happen. Now, at Manchester United I am going to do everything I possibly can to win it.”

Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm 17 September 2013

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Young; Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Buttner, Evans, Anderson, Cleverley, Giggs, Zaha, Kagawa, Lingard, Hernández

Leverkusen (4-3-3): Leno; Donati, Toprak, Spahić, Boenisch; Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes; Heung-Min, Kießling, Sam. Subs from: Palop, Yelldell, Stafylidis, Hilbert, Wollscheid, Derdiyok, Castro, Can, Hegeler, Öztunalı, Kohr

United 2 Draw 2 Leverkusen 0

Officials (all Slovenia)
Referee: Damir Skomina
Assistant referees: Matej Žunič, Bojan Ul
Additional assistant referees: Slavko Vinčić, Roberto Ponis