Two of the most glamorous teams in Europe will clash in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. Manchester United and Bayern Munich have a rich history of success, as well as memorable meetings between the two sides.
However, both teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. Manchester United have struggled in the English Premier League, sitting in 7th place in the table. If that position holds, the Red Devils would not qualify for European Football on any level for the first time since 1989.
Bayern Munich, on the other hand, have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, with a record seven games to spare. Die Roten could pull off a second straight treble, as they are in the semifinals of the DFB-Pokal (The German Cup) as well as gunning for their second straight Champions League title.
The history is well documented. United defeated Bayern 2-1 in a thrilling final in 1999, as goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in injury time gave United the title.
Bayern gained their revenge in 2001, eliminating United in the quarterfinals, winning both legs to boot. They met again in 2002 in the second group stage, with both games ending in a draw.
Bayern eliminated United in the 2010 quarterfinals on away goals, with the decisive strike coming off a superb volley from Arjen Robben.
There is no secret to how Pep Guardiola’s side will align. Bayern is consistent with the 4-2-3-1 formation, and why not. This has been extremely successful for the German powerhouse.
With Dante serving a one match suspension, expect David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha to form the back four. A sturdy quartet that can control opposing attacks, while pushing the ball forward to their midfielders, Bayern’s defenders are a solid foursome that won’t make mistakes.
Bayern will miss Thiago Alcantara, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. This will necessitate the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger in a holding midfield position. This isn’t a bad thing for Bayern. Schweinsteiger might be the best holding midfielder in the world, which speaks on the depth this Bayern Munich side has. Philipp Lahm will move up to a holding midfielder spot, to compensate for Alcantara’s absence. If anyone can adjust from defender to midfield, it is Lahm.
A solid trio of attacking midfielders will give United fits. Robben, Franck Ribery and either Thomas Muller or Toni Kroos are deadly on the attack. Ribery is the talismanic figure, Robben brings pace along the flank while Robben and Kroos are the finishing specialists. Guardiola has the option of going with a 4-3-3 formation that would move Robben and Muller to forward if he desires. The options are plentiful for this Bayern side.
Mario Mandzukic is a force as the striker for Bayern. Whether he is a lone striker, or joined by his teammates Mandzukic is a force that will cause defenders headaches throughout. Claudio Pizzaro could be used as a substitute if needed.
Manuel Neuer usually isn’t that busy, as his teammates usually control possession. But he is reliable when called upon, and is excellent at distributing the ball to his defenders and midfielders.
United manager David Moyes has taken plenty of criticism about his lineup decisions. Whether it be using the wrong formations, or incorrect substitutions, the overwhelmed United boss has taken plenty of heat from United’s supporters.
Moyes favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that just matches up with Bayern. If Moyes wants to make his mark, a 3-5-2 lineup could be the way to go.
The back will be without Patrice Evra, who is serving a one-game ban. Rafael and Antonio Valencia are both battling injuries and if they are not fit, it would leave a gaping hole at right back. United will most likely go with Nemanja Vidic in a centre back role with Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones occupying the wing-backs. Alexander Buttner could see pitch time as a fourth defender but he is a step down in quality from Evra and Valencia in particular. United also won’t have Johnny Evans and Chris Smalling in the lineup due to injuries.
Michael Carrick is a solid holding midfielder, but he will be under considerable pressure from Bayern’s imposing attacking midfielders. United could go with Marouane Fellini or Tom Cleverley in a defensive midfield spot, even though Cleverley has had a dismal season. Juan Mata would have been a better option, but he is unavailable due to European restrictions.
Shinji Kagawa has been a disappointment since United brought him over from Borussia Dortmund, but his familiarity with Bayern Munich could see him in the starting eleven. Danny Welbeck does have 10 goals in all competitions and should see the pitch against Bayern. Ashley Young has had a disappointing season, but he may be forced in due to a lack of depth. Ryan Giggs is another possibility but one wonders if his 40-year-old body can handle the stress.
The one certainty is United’s lineup is Wayne Rooney. There is no doubt that Rooney has been United’s best player this season. His 17 goals in all competitions has been a bright spot, in an otherwise lost season at Old Trafford. Robin Van Persie will be greatly missed, as his knee injury will keep him sidelined for the next six weeks. There is talk the Van Persie will sit out the rest of the season, so he can be healthy for the World Cup. Javier Hernandez is an option at forward, but has struggled trying to find a place in Moyes lineup.
David de Gea has been a dependable keeper, but he has been overworked. The Spanish International was superb in the second leg against Olympiakos, making some brilliant saves to keep United’s hope alive. The pressure will be intense on de Gea, who will have to be on top of his game for United to have any hope.
This was a brilliant matchup in 2010, but the two clubs are going in different directions. That said, there is hope for United. In 2005, Liverpool were having a troubling season in the English Premier League, but played brilliantly in Europe, which led the Reds to a Champions League title. In 2012, Chelsea finished sixth in the Premiership, but had a fantastic run in Europe, which ended with their first Champions League title. So not all hope is lost with United. That said, this is Bayern’s tie to lose. The Bundesliga champions have more depth, and have more quality across the board than United. The Red Devils will need a strong performance in the first leg at Old Trafford to have any chance. But Bayern have been excellent when travelling to England, scoring victories over Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, and Arsenal at the Emirates. It won’t be a blowout, but Bayern Munich wins comfortably, and will advance to the semifinals.
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