Manchester United fight to prove they can hang with Bayern Munich

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — A gritty Manchester United held Bayern Munich to a 1-1 draw tonight that leaves the European champions with a slim advantage ahead of next week’s game in Munich. Nemanja Vidic and Bastian Schweinsteiger traded goals in a game that Bayern dominated but never truly took control of.

No United fan will be disappointed with the battling effort shown here: this was a classic performance from this distinctly pedestrian United side, who rose to the occasion and had the best chances of the match. Heavy underdogs at kickoff, with some predicting a slaughter, this instead was a show that will leave the Old Trafford faithful, if not optimistic, then at least unashamed of.

A smiling David Moyes said after the match, “We played really well tonight, we’re delighted with the performance, despite conceding the goal late. I thought here was a real determination here tonight, with the players realizing we were playing a really good side.”

“We know we have to score a goal, though,” added Moyes “And we know we have to go there and do something because as it stands, they’re through. [But] this gives us a real opportunity and that was what tonight was about.”

Vidic broke the deadlock just before the hour mark with a textbook header that belied how poor Bayern’s marking had been. Wayne Rooney swept in a corner and the captain rose up to meet it, spinning his body back and craning his neck, then powering the shot to the far post.

The goal stunned Bayern, and manager Pep Guardiola reacted quickly, yanking the ineffective Thomas Muller and throwing on Mario Mandzukic in his place. The move paid immediate dividends, as Arjen Robben carried the ball upfield, found the striker with a cross, and saw him head it down smartly for Bastian Schweinsteiger to score.

FAT CLUBS

How different things might have been had Danny Welbeck’s goal in the fourth minute not been chalked off. Welbeck got the ball and danced into the Bayern area, chipping it over Javi Martinez and then into the net. But ref Carlos Velasco Carballo had blown the whistle, apparently for dangerous play. Replays were inconclusive and the only suggestion was that Welbeck’s foot had been too high. It was a dubious call and not the only one that would not go United’s way on the night.

But that began an extended spell of Bayern possession with United only able to get across the halfway line in fits and starts. The patterns became routine: Toni Kroos acted as the fulcrum, finding Philipp Lahm out wide; Lahm then passed in to Robben or out wide again to Frank Ribery, and at some point, the ball would fall to Thomas Muller, who would miss the ball altogether.

The possession was so lopsided, with a solid ten-minute spell in which United could not string two passes together, that it looked like a training exercise. Dea Gea was forced to save Robben; Ribery and Muller both had chances blocked; several other shots went wide. There was even a Keystone Cops routine as Phil Jones slipped in the box with Robben lurking; the Dutchman fell as well and both vainly scrambled on the floor, trying to get a toe to the ball.

United’s guile started to emerge again after a half hour, first when Rooney tried to spring Welbeck with a long throw-in, sensing Bayern was vulnerable in the heart of their defense. Welbeck dithered on the shot and Manuel Neuer collected. And then, in the best moment of the half, Welbeck was against sprung one on one with five minutes remaining. Jerome Boateng was the latest man to be afflicted with dropsy, falling 30 yards out from his own net and watching in despair as the striker raced at Neuer. Neuer came out and stood him up and Welbeck chose exactly the wrong option: a chip, which Neuer quickly got a mitt up to swat away.

YOU'RE THE BOSS

After the half, Moyes removed Ryan Giggs for the far more attack-minded Shinji Kagawa, and there was a noticeable shift in intent. Kagawa immediately tested Neuer from long-range, and started spraying the ball about in an effort to spark United. It worked, with United winning the corner, and then scoring the goal.

United made hay down the near side all night long, with Alaba unable to handle the marauding runs of Antonio Valencia. Dante’s absence, due to suspension, was keenly felt and Bayern will be dearly looking forward to having him back.

In contrast to Alaba’s struggles, the allegedly callow Alexander Buttner had an above average night, and while he and Jones struggled to match the speed of Robben and Ribery, they were well-marshalled by Vidic, and only once lost their man. (That was also hardly their fault: Marouane Fellaini, outclassed all game long, failed to track back on the equalizer.)

Robben was sanguine after the game, saying, “It was a good match. United played very defensive and they were only waiting for counter-attacks. 1-1 is a good result, we will take it and will try to finish the job next week. It is not easy when the opponent sets up so deep and closes down space. After they took the lead, we should be happy to take a 1-1 home to Munich.”

Was this an aberration? Probably: Bayern still looked the slicker and had Robben made just one of his many attempts on frame count, Bayern might have run away with the game in the first half. But Bayern will miss Schweinsteiger, who was ejected late in the game for his second yellow card and will be suspended. It came on a sliding tackle on Rooney and while the German thought his counterpart had embellished the tackle, it was clearly a foul.

And now, these two meet again in Munich in a week’s time. If United can show the same spirit there that they did here then they absolutely have a chance.