It’s make or break for European powerhouses Bayern Munich and Manchester United as they prepare for the return leg at the Allianz Arena.
The tie is delicately poised after a 1-1 at Old Trafford meaning that the tie is on a for the second leg, with one team potentially just 180 minutes from a memorable night in Lisbon when the final whistle blows in Bavaria on Wednesday evening.
A visit to Lisbon represents the only chance that United will play in Europe’s premier competition after a dismal league campaign which has seen us stutter and disappoint all season long, with the drop off in the post-Ferguson era even more pronounced than the largest of pessimists could have predicted.
But while the Moyes era has been dreadful domestically, in Europe at least the Reds have at least been half decent, losing just once in nine games so far this season in the Champions League which is something that has caught the majority of fans on by surprise given that former Moyes had no Champions League experience.
The 50-year-old Scot’s European strategy has been almost textbook Sir Alex with United often setting up on the continent to defend first and foremost, yielding relatively sound results. However, goals will be of the essence in Munich and parking the bus as we did at Old Trafford a week ago is unlikely if we are to achieve a semi-final spot.
United’s form has undoubtedly improved of late with a humiliating defeat against Manchester City the only recent blot on the copybook. The Reds go into the game off the back of a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle but have really struggled against better opposition this season, with the first leg against Bayern a rare, solid performance against a top quality side.
Jonny Evans, Rafael and Marouane Fellaini will all miss the game with the former two’s influence likely to go amiss much more than the out-of-sorts, elbow-flinging latter.
United were able to rest Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck and Nemanja Vidic at the weekend who are all almost certain to start while Wayne Rooney has recovered sufficiently from a toe injury to travel to Munich. Juan Mata is cup-tied.
Bayern’s season has been almost the polar opposite to that of United’s. Both sides changed managers in the summer after triumphing in their respective domestic leagues but while United and Moyes have ‘tried’ and faltered all season, Guardiola has successfully taken up the mantle from outgoing treble winning coach Jupp Heynckes in Bavaria.
Having wrapped up a third successive Bundesliga title with games to spare, Bayern now have European glory in their sights and many regular German football observers say that the Munich outfit have looked more balanced, fluid and above all better since Pep took charge in the summer, a pretty frightening statement considering the heights they reached last year.
Guardiola fielded an experimental line-up at the weekend and the subsequent loss at home to mid-table Augsburg was a first defeat in 53 domestic matches. But the big guns who have helped Bayern sweep past all that have stood before them so far this season will come back into the team ahead of a huge game for both teams.
United’s task is made slightly easier by the number of players Bayern have unavailable with Thiago out injured and Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger suspended for the Bayern.
Interestingly, since 2012, the Germans have lost three Champions League games and Schweinsteiger has missed all three of those defeats.
Dante will return at the heart of the defence after serving a one game suspension while Mario Mandukic could lead the line after impressing in a first leg sub appearance. Skipper Philip Lahm will anchor the midfield and contract rebel Toni Kroos should line up alongside him.
Keeping tight at the back will be critical for United and they have managed a competition high five clean sheets so far this season, but keeping the Bavarians side out at home is almost an impossible task, with Bayern only drawing a blank in one of their last 28 Champions League home games (vs Arsenal, March 2013).
United require either a victory or a score draw to progress to the last four of the competition but their record away in Europe of late is hardly brilliant, winning just one of their last six, but this was against German opposition in Bayer Leverkusen.
Bayern have won 14 of their last eighteen home Champions League matches, a formidable record.
Tuesday’s 1-1 first leg was undoubtedly a great result given the circumstances but United’s approach has been criticized by some, including Bayern winger Arjen Robben. The Reds have to score and will need to sit much higher than they did at Old Trafford but this comes at the risk of leaving space in behind.
It promises to be a fascinating contest and despite all of the possession the visitors had in the first leg, United, notably through Danny Welbeck, caused Bayern’s backline some problems.
Injuries and suspensions could make it tricky for Ribery and co but the defending Champions will have too much quality for Moyes’ side on the night.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-0 Manchester United