UCL Preview: Manchester United, Bayern Munich look to improve on leg one
Two years ago, an FC Basel went to the Allianz Arena with a 1-0 lead, having upset Bayern Munich in the first leg of the teams’ Round of 16 UEFA Champions League matchup. The Swiss champions had already played David in group stage, forcing previous year’s finalists Manchester United into Europa League. After knocking off Bayern a St. Jakob Park, another upset seemed less miraculous than an actual possibility. Perhaps Basel had quietly built a team that could compete with some of Europe’s elites.
That thought lasted expired by halftime at the Allianz, with Bayern eventually winning, 7-0. Mario Gomez scored four times. Arjen Robben added another two. By the time Jupp Heynckes’s team met Chelsea in the final, the Basel loss was an afterthought.
As if yesterday’s games weren’t caution enough, Bayern’s path to the 2012 final reminds us: There’s a reason they play two legs. Teams are naturally predisposed to playing better at home. While leg one may show two relatively evenly matched sides, that may also be one team’s best case scenario and another’s worst.
Calling Manchester United’s 1-1 against Bayern Munich a best case scenario doesn’t sound too far off base. Nobody was expected the Red Devils to pull off an upset, which gave their draw against the Champions League’s holders a sense of accomplishment. While they had to spend most of their night on the edge of the their own penalty area, the Red Devils were arguably the more dangerous side last Tuesday, with opportunities missed by Danny Welbeck giving the team a chance to finish leg one on top.
Though that didn’t happen, but United did establish a reasonable way of limiting damage. The only problem now is that away goal. If Bayern wants to, they can pass the ball around the park on Wednesday, wait for the Red Devils take it of them, and settle for a 0-0 if United never comes out of their crouch. It would be unpopular, and the Allianz might whistle come the 75th minute, but it’s a option Bayern earned at Old Trafford. Having taken an away goal, FCB’s not obliged to score at home.
“One-all is a risky scoreline, we could not win in Manchester,” Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola lamented on Tuesday. “But I am sure we will go through. We need a good performance and we want to win the game.”
The fact that they don’t need to puts last week’s result in perspective. Though the draw been hailed as one of Manchester United’s best performances of the season, that’s relative praise. After giving up an away goal, the team finished last Tuesday worse than it started. United may have exceeded expectations, but that doesn’t mean it made progress toward the next round.
“I expect us to play better than in the first leg – and I believe we can,” Moyes said. “To get through, we’ll have to. My focus is on getting through. The players are ready and focused. We’re relishing it.”
The Red Devils will still be without Robin van Persie (knee) and Juan Mata (cup tied). Although Bayern will be without Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger (suspensions), and Thiago Alcántara (knee), they’ll still have Franck Ríbery. They’ll still have Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, and most of the pieces that allowed them to clinch the Bundesliga with seven games to play. And even through the midfield is hit hard by injuries, Pep Guardiola will still have Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, and Mario Götze at his disposal.
On Wednesday, however, Manchester United is only one goal away. They’re a set piece, a penalty kick, a blown call away from one of the bigger upsets in recent memory.
While that’s still unlikely to happen, Manchester United’ given itself a shot.