Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How Moyes/ManU just might

David Moyes and Manchester United outdid themselves and surprised many by drawing with current Champions League holders, Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in the first leg of their quarter-final.

Bastien Schweinsteiger cancelled out Nemanja Vidic's opener to keep the tie even going back to Munich next Wednesday. Whilst the tie is even, Munich are in the ascendancy due to the vital away goal, Man United did enough to suggest they can compete and make it hard work for Munich to become the first team to retain the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola sent out a Bayern side without an out and out striker a la his false nine at Barcelona, spearheaded by Thomas Müller with more midfield luminaries; Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm.  All horizontal passing and possession, led to little chances as the United defence of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand stood firm.

What Guardiola ignored or failed to realise was that the gameplan of keeping the game in front of the defence plays into the hands of stalwarts like the United central defence pairing.  Guardiola feels that possession is nine tenths of the game, if you have the ball you win.  Yet United's weakness and especially those of an ageing Rio and Vidic has been exposed by pace as Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge can attest to.  Play counter-attack at pace with zip and you have United chasing shadows, Moyes had the benefit of playing Phil Jones at right back to give some more stability and insurance.

Moyes made a reputation of making his sides difficult to defeat and break down at Everton, and knowing that he was facing a formidable opponent he had to rock their boat and make them work for it.  The plan was to probably score one goal and stop Bayern scoring that away goal. Guardiola's personnel selection played into Moyes' hands, yet it is telling that once he injected Mario Mandzukic into the match Bayern created more clear cut chances eventually leading to the equaliser.

Man United did create chances especially Danny Welbeck whose pace frightened the make shift Javier Martinez in defence (Martinez is suspended for the second leg), yet Welbeck could not convert a one on one with Neuer.  Yet United scored a goal from that most English of archetypes, the set piece. A great corner delivery from Wayne Rooney was met by Vidic who cleverly diverted to the net helped by the absence of any defenders on the post in a redundant zonal marking system.

This provides the hope for United in the second leg will be to get that away goal that they will vitally need to progress to the semi-final.

The other morsel of hope is that Bayern Munich have this tendency to freeze at home in the Bayer Arena especially against English sides. They have not won the last four games at home to an English side starting with the final defeat to Chelsea three years ago, then the 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal, 2-3 versus Manchester City (which they led 2-0) and they drew 1-1 with Arsenal in the last round.

Do Bayern freeze at home or do the robustness of English sides disrupt their tempo? After starting Marouane Fellaini in midfield, Moyes need that injection of creativity offered by Shinji Kagawa to create chances for Welbeck and Rooney, he will also hope the injury that caused Antonio Valencia is not serious for him to miss out.  Kagawa was influential in the 5-0 away demolition of Leverkusen in the group stage.

David Moyes and Manchester United surprised many by not being embarrassed, now they have a real opportunity to cause a major surprise in Munich next Wednesday.

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