Manchester United 1 Bayern Munich 1 comment: David Moyes doubts linger despite impressive Champions League display
United produced a battling performance against the competition's holders
It is an outcome that his predecessor would have spat at but it was one that David Moyes would always have taken, because the consequences of something more serious really did not bear contemplation.
A catastrophe was widely expected - 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0 against United being the rough range of expectation - making this the game which might tell us if there really is any way back for this club, under this management. That question remains unanswered today, but the predicted narrative was certainly scrambled.
United did acceptably well. Their threadbare defence held out in the teeth of some formidably fluent first half football. Rio Ferdinand resembled the player he has so often been in the past. Nemanja Vidic showed that he wants something significant with which to sign off at United. Alexander Buttner, the source of much black humour when the thought of Arjen Robben on the Bayern right cropped up, acquitted himself at least as well as he would have hoped.
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Moyes was entitled to reflect that tactically he had matched Pep Guardiola, first threatening his players in the central channels with nothing more complicated than a 4-4-2, then introducing the superior threat of Shinji Kagawa at the interval. There was a gutsy United goal; another disallowed on grounds that other managers would have railed against. There was even an opposition player dismissed. Not so “typical Germans,” to coin Sir Alex Ferguson's apoplectic description of them, when Rafael da Silva was given his marching orders here four years ago.
That is about as far as the grounds for optimism run, however. The last time United battened down the hatches quite like this here was for the semi final nearly six years ago when a Paul Scholes strike put paid to the Barcelona side which Guardiola was then about to take over. The significant difference being that Sir Alex Ferguson's United had already taken a goalless draw from the Nou Camp on that occasion.
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Bayern showed rare signs of fallibility
Ferguson was remembering in print only this week how he would always engage in a game of “gamble and risk” in the last 15 minutes, if the course of a European tie weighed against United. Tonight, a home draw seemed perfectly acceptable - an accomplishment, even. The Bayern team that eliminated United at this stage four years ago have certainly changed but so have United. Hard to believe now that Ferguson's players were 3-0 up in 41 minutes in that match, with a team which featured five of tonight's starters.
The chances of them sending an immediate, seismic shock across the continent vanished with the revelation of a starting line-up in which Adnan Januzaj was absent. So, too, Shinji Kagawa, whose quality of link-up play with Wayne Rooney three days ago suggested that he might have been one of the more attacking options.
Moyes, wearing black, had said that caution must be a byword and that his side were in a survival mode was as evident in the technical area, where the choreography told the story, Guardiola flapped and jumped like the guy with the lollipops on an airport runway. Moyes did his duck-feeding impression, casting a tentative hand towards the pitch, ushering his team forwards, back, forwards, back. As Bayern thrusts increased, United retreated deeper and deeper, fighting for a possession which was wrested away as quickly as it came. This was not how Ryan Giggs - isolated and barely encountering the football - probably imagined seeing his European career out, during those storied years with Ferguson on the continent. He lasted until the break, one short of Raul's record of 142 appearances in the competition - a figure you wouldn't bet the house on him equalling now.
The second half did bring a step change. United were brighter, stronger and Nemanja Vidic's goal finally brought the kind of ignition to the stadium which that 2008 April night against Barcelona is always remembered for. But the lead lasted a mere seven minutes and when United lost it they did not come back at Bayern. There was no Januzaj. The clock ticked down. Still no Januzaj.
Where there is life there is hope, of course. This is a fixture which tells us that far stranger things have happened in football than United progressing next week. But the night left the indelible sense of a club which has changed quite fundamentally. Since it might be the last time for a year or more that Old Trafford sees such an occasion, they seemed to living on their history; milking it for one more time. Commentary clips from the 1999 final were the stadium soundtrack in the countdown to the match. “I liked to see a part of myself in teams,” Ferguson said of that era. “They've mirrored me in terms of of determination and attitude,” he said. Audacity and risk-taking were a part of it, too. Yes, times here have certainly changed.
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