Manchester United’s performance against Bayern Munich was admirable for an hour, but eventually the class of the European Champions shone through and United were powerless to resist as they were knocked out of the Champions League.
Tactically, David Moyes had a clear game plan to try and find the elusive away goal and in the first half it worked reasonably well. Defensively United were solid, with Fletcher and Carrick sitting in front of the back four and becoming a wall of six United bodies that were an immovable object in front of David De Gea. Beyond that, United had a front four that looked to utilise pace on the break, with Kagawa and Rooney looking to release Welbeck and Valencia who could trouble the German’s high defensive line.
Just like at Old Trafford, United created the odd chance in the first half, with Rooney’s indecisiveness preventing him from scoring or providing Kagawa with an opportunity to do so. Minutes later and Valencia had the ball in the net but it was offside. The game plan was clear. United looked to soak up as much pressure before releasing this front four in the hope of creating that one chance. For this to work, the team had to be defensively solid just as they were at Old Trafford. Munich attacked slightly differently to the way they approached the first leg, with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm playing in more central areas in the first half, supplying the Munich frontline whilst also providing a shield for the two centre backs. This nullified a certain amount of the threat in wide areas for the home side as the full backs are such a threat on the overlap, but it did mean that United were less able to clear their lines and start counter attacks, as both Alaba and Lahm were able to recycle possession to keep the pressure on United. Further to the role of Lahm and Alaba, Kroos was then able to roam completely free of any defensive responsibility due to the cover of the fullbacks, allowing him to pull the strings from all over the pitch for the Bayern attack.
The second half however was an entirely different battle. United were clearly sent out after the break to score the away goal that was required, and when it arrived it opened the game up completely. Evra’s strike was world class, and he will certainly never score a goal like that again in his entire career. His ambition to be that far forward in a rare United attack was indicative of the shift in tactical focus from the United team. Strangely enough, going 1-0 up in this match was perhaps the moment where it all started to unravel in favour of the German side.
Just 22 seconds after Bayern kicked off following Evra’s goal, Mario Mandzukic headed in Bayern’s equaliser, and it is hard to argue it was anything other than United’s fault. Unlike in the previous 150 minutes of football against Bayern, where United would allow Bayern possession in deeper areas and only pressure the ball in and around the penalty area, in the build up to the first Bayern goal United made several mistakes down their right hand side, pressuring the ball in areas they shouldn’t have been which created space for Ribery to cross for Mandzukic. It was a fairly simple goal in the end, and one that had been denied Bayern by disciplined United defending before that moment. All United’s hard work was undone by careless decision-making, something which had been spot on up to that point.
The other thing which turned the game in Bayern’s favour was the tactical change by Guardiola shortly before Muller scored the second goal for Munich. Rafinha came on for Gotze, which allowed Lahm to move into central midfield permanently, whilst still allowing the double threat on the right hand side from Robben and Rafinha combined. Whereas in the first half United were able to double up on Robben to prevent him cutting in or going on the outside of Patrice Evra, once Rafinha came on it simply became a one v one on that side of the pitch. Robben crossed, Muller tapped home, and suddenly United faced a massive task to score a second.
The third Bayern goal was a piece of magic from Robben, and it put a gloss on the final score that maybe the hosts didn’t deserve. It must not be forgotten that United were tactically spot on for 150 minutes against Bayern. Scored home and away, and for 20 glorious seconds the dreams of a huge night in May were very much on the cards. Credit must go to Moyes for the way he set up his team, United came much closer than anyone gave them a chance of doing. This was one step too far tonight, and the rebuild must begin in earnest in the summer. For tonight though at least, this Manchester United side put some pride back in that red shirt.
By Adem Berkay
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