Once again the football gods have reigned down from the heavens to present Bayern München with a gift. Whether Manchester United is an opponent waiting to be steamrolled is up for debate, what is not is the fact that it was the weakest of the remaining UEFA Champions League crop.
One can not deny the monumental polarity between the two clubs on paper. Bayern are winning with ease, results coming even with a sub-par performance, while United jockey with inconsistency and age. The two end of year reviews for both first year managers will be of very different tones.
With that in mind, consider an immeasurable aspect to the Red Devils: the UEFA Champions League is all that the red side of Manchester has to play for. It will be the reconciliation in a season of despair, as well as a ticket to the world's greatest club competition the following season. The defending European champions are coming to Old Trafford, a site where Manchester United could defend its crest in front of its own supporters.
The match is garnering a lot of attention, many fans of the English game rooting against the German incursion to their beloved sport. Both trips to England were successful for the Rekordmeister, and Tuesday's return could complete the hat-trick.
The Match (10th Meeting)
Location: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Head: Carlos Velasco Carballo
FC Bayern: 2 W, 0 D, 0 L – 6 YC
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Television and Streaming
US: Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports GO, Fox Soccer 2 Go, SiriusXM FC
Canada: Sportsnet, Sportsnet World Online
UK: ITV 1, UTV, STV Scotland, BBC Radio 5
Germany: Sky Sports 1 | HD, Sky Go
FC Bayern: DWWWD
Man. Utd.: WLWWL
UEFA Champions League: 2 W, 4 D, 3 L
1. Giovane Elber, FCB; Nani, MANU; Ivica Olić, FCB; Paulo Sergio, FCB – 2
Biggest Victory: 2-1 (April 15, 2002, Munich Germany; March 30, 2010, Munich, Germany)
Biggest Defeat: 2-3 (April 7, 2010, Manchester, England)
Bayern München have done themselves an invaluable favor when they clinched its 24th Bundesliga Title a week ago in Berlin. With one competition already concluded, Pep Guardiola can configure his game-plan for just the knockout competitions, the highest prize being a second consecutive UEFA Champions League trophy.
Bayern started its Bundesliga with a bit of misplaced luggage, Guardiola electing to play five squad players, including there in defense, against the high flying attack of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. The result was the end of Bayern's Bundesliga wining streak and the most goals conceded of the season.
A victim of the weekend match was Thiago Alcântara, out six to eight weeks with a partial ligament tear. A brief era of a lush squad has come to a recess, and support may once again be required for the center of the park. Philipp Lahm may need to once again move out of defense, sliding next to Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield. However, Toni Kroos will be able to flank Schweinsteiger as both play deeper midfield roles, restoring Lahm to his original stomping ground.
What may determine the midfield is how Guardiola utilizes the space behind Mario Mandžukić. Thomas Müller and Mario Götze have both started in the hole, Müller as a second forward and Götze as a fascilitator, although having Lahm in midfield has allowed for Guardiola to push both Kroos and Schweinsteiger forward while also deploying a flexible front.
A disaster in defense will once again restore its reputation once Jerome Boateng returns to the team sheet. The drop-off behind both he and Alaba may be vast, but that remains irrelevant as long as both are available. Dante will have to sit out due to yellow card suspension.
Bayern has fronted the battle in its previous trips to England, and are well suited to do so for a third time.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Toni Kroos
David Alaba – Javi Martinez – Jerome Boateng – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Tom Starke, Diego Contento, Daniel van Buyten, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Mario Götze, Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro
The fall from grace in Manchester will have a softer landing after Robin van Persie's hat-trick thrust Manchester United into the Quarterfinals. With the Dutchman's injury, David Moyes's hopes will have to hang on someone else.
That someone else could be Wayne Rooney, who has scored four goals in three games since van Persie's absence. Moyes has stuck England's most expensive player at the top, and Rooney has rewarded his new gaffer with two Doppelpacks against West Ham and Aston Villa.
The major inconsistency with Manchester United is who has paired with Rooney in attack. Danny Welbeck has memorable and miserable matches, although he has become one of the first choices on the left flank. Shinji Kagawa has struggled to get a game, but van Persie's injury has opened a window wide enough for him to climb through.
What is not on Manchester United's side is depth, with injuries and suspensions sucking the life out of the squad. Rafael and Antonio Valencia are both doubtful to suit up, joining Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling on the injured list. Patrice Evra is facing a yellow-card suspension and Juan Mata is cap-tied, so the team sheet will likely contain the 18 bodies left.
Moyes has managed his defense the passed few weeks, preparing veterans Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand for the biggest stage by cycling the two with Phil Jones and Michael Carrick. Marouane Fellaini has re-emerged as an option in the center of the park, although he has not kept his performance at a constant.
Manchester United will throw everything the have at this match. Only winning the whole thing will allow England's most successful club to stay in the Champions League.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Danny Welbeck – Shinji Kagawa – Ashley Young
Michael Carrick – Marouane Fellani
Alexander Buttner – Nemanja Vidić – Rio Ferdinand – Phil Jones
Bench: Anders Lindegaard, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverly, Adnan Januzaj, Nani, Javier Hernandez
Although an upset in Old Trafford will enthrall the tabloids, the mismatch on paper will jump off the page and onto the pitch. The lack of options for Manchester United is staggering, while the plentiful ones for Bayern are just as much. The Rekordmeister has not lost in England so far this season, and that is unlikely to change.
Projected Score: Manchester United (0-4) FC Bayern München