This week’s Reasons To Be Cheerful feature focuses on Manchester United’s resilience against the European Champions, Bayern Munich.
As I sat down to lunch on Tuesday a friend asked who I fancied in Man United’s Champions League quarter final clash with Bayern Munich. Without skipping a beat I replied simply “4-0 Bayern.”
When full time came later that evening at Old Trafford I had never been happier to be wrong as Man United proved something very important.
They still have soul.
Many a weekend fans of not just Man United, but of football, have bemoaned the team and their lack of passion when they took to the field. With Fergie not in the dressing room to give out the hairdryer treatment, it had seemed the Red Devils were happy to just make up the numbers every weekend and pick up their paychecks.
Tuesday’s performance against Bayern Munich has shown us a lot about United. They can still play and compete against the top sides even with their dodgy midfield. Every time a Bayern player picked up the ball United hunted him down in packs, as a team, and did everything to ensure no tricky ball was played through.
At times the home side were at panic stations such as the Phil Jones slip, or when hearts were in mouths as Arjen Robben let fly, but David de Gea was on hand to ensure United remained firmly in the fixture. While the ‘keeper could do nothing about Bastian Schweinsteiger’s superb equaliser it is a testament to United that the goal was Bayern’s only real clear cut chance of the night.
Not only did they defend well but when United did manage to get the ball and attack they looked threatening. Danny Welbeck’s first half miss is one of those threatening opportunities that stand out. After Wayne Rooney split the Bayern defence, Welbeck was left clean through and instead of firing it either side of Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal, he attempted an unsuccessful chip over the 6’4” German.
But that awful miss did not deter Welbeck or United as the first half turned to the second and roared on by the crowd, United eventually got their reward for patient defending. Since 1999 United corners have troubled the Bavarian club and they would do so again. Rooney the supplier and Nemanja Vidic heading home to give United a vital goal.
While the lead would last no more than 10 minutes, United could very easily have rolled over and let Bayern run riot in the closing 20 minutes knowing that with an away goal the German champions were back in the driving seat. But they did not. Moyes’s men continued to battle until the end.
Speaking of David Moyes, the under pressure manager deserves a lot of credit for the 1-1 draw. He had his team well drilled and up for the match despite a makeshift back four. All his players played with the passion and determination that has so often been missing from the United side this season. Moyes showed determination to really go for it too, sending on Shinji Kagawa at half time, and introducing Javier Hernandez in the second half. Hernandez proved important winning a foul off Javi Martínez which saw the Spaniard see yellow and he will now sit out the return leg.
Wayne Rooney was also involved in controversy winning a foul off Schweinsteiger which saw the German pick up a second yellow card late on. Bayern may feel hard done by after Antonio Valencia did not receive a second yellow in the second half but Schweinsteiger should have known not to dive in while already on a yellow card.
The 1-1 draw means that fans can look forward to the second leg and hope Man United go out in the Allianz Arena with the same spirit and passion they showed at Old Trafford. Every fan is now hoping for a cracking second leg and with Schweinsteiger and Martinez missing it adds fuel to the hopeful fire.
With this column being optimistic by its title alone, it may be a stretch too far for even me to predict that Man United will qualify for the next round. But there is still the hope that they can cause a major upset which is quite a nice reason to be cheerful.
Steve Neville, Pundit Arena.