On Wednesday night, United face their biggest match of the season in Munich. After last week’s stirring 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, the Reds have to summon a performance for the ages to get past European champions Bayern, and reach the Champions League semifinals.
This past weekend, Bayern lost their first match of the Bundesliga season, 1-0 at Augsburg, with a starting XI featuring stars of the world game such as Mitchell Weiser, Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Ylli Sallahi. United beat Newcastle 4-0, a really good performance that built upon their improving away form. Mr. Moyes was also able to rest key players such as Carrick, Ferdinand and Vidic, while Rafael may be fit to start on Wednesday. Unfortunately, man-of-the-match Juan Mata is cup-tied and therefore unavailable for the game. Robin van Persie is still injured and will be out for some time again, while Wayne Rooney is likely to start after suffering from a toe injury at the weekend. Patrice Evra will be available after a one-match suspension, though – amazingly – there is the possibility that Alex Büttner will get the nod at left back, after a disciplined and controlled defensive performance last week.
Bayern are facing a (relative) midfield shortage for the match – Thiago will be out injured until May, Xherdan Shaqiri is also injured, and the suspended duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez will be missing. Shed a tear, folks. Unfortunately for United, last year’s treble-winners have the best and deepest midfield in the world, and will probably call on Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Mario Götze to man the engine room and create chances for Robben, Ribéry and either Müller or Mandzukic further ahead.
We’re delighted to welcome Valon – a lifelong Bayern fan – to join us in today’s preview. Valon has kindly shared his thoughts on Bayern, United and Pep Guardiola, among other things, while looking back at the first leg and giving his prediction for Wednesday’s game at the Allianz Arena. As always, we welcome feedback in the comments from both sets of fans.
Bayern had an almost perfect season last year. How can Guardiola improve on that, and what would constitute success for him at the club in the longer term?
Continue the Heynckes philosophy! Even though there were some slight changes, I really think the strategy and the content were there for Guardiola to maintain and continue the current success. Over the long term, Guardiola will have to work exponentially harder and harder to refine the squad, find the right balance, and work with the youth team more.
It’s been a wonderful year for Bayern. What’s been your highlight of the season so far?
The highlight of the season, of course, has been the 53 match undefeated run in the Bundesliga. Guardiola has managed to play everyone, rotate often, and most importantly form a strong spirit in the team. It is really hard to get the hearts of the disciplined Germans, but Guardiola proved that he is as hardworking as the ideal German, and they respect that immensely.
Have you been surprised by any of the developments or changes Guardiola’s made – Philipp Lahm in central midfield, for example? Do you think he’s made any mistakes?
I truly believe that the only Guardiola’s mistake was selling Luiz Gustavo to VfL Wolfsburg, and insisting that Alcantara will be a “great”. Knowing that Bayern’s squad is not as deep in defence as in other areas, I truly believe that was a tiny mistake which could eventually cost the team a lot. The domino effect of that mistake, I believe, was reflected in Lahm being placed in midfield, which should never have happened, even though there were matches where Lahm performs at 100% passing accuracy level from that position. Moreover, the 40-million euro transfer from last year, Javi Martinez, has not had nearly as much of a contribution as last year… either warming the bench for the majority of the season or playing in defence!
You were probably disappointed with Bayern’s first-leg performance and result against United. What do you think went wrong (or what went right for United), and what do you think needs to change if Bayern are to win the tie?
First, I think Manchester United played it smart: defend & counterattack strategy was fruitful. If they only were to be slightly better at finishing, the return leg would probably be much tenser. Second, Bayern were very calculative too. They circulated the ball, but were not practical at all! Playing Muller up front was not a good tactical choice, considering the English style of football – Mandzukic should have started the match, as he was the only one able and willing to fight with the veteran duo of Vidic & Ferdinand). In fact, Mandzukic’s entry paid off right away by passing the ball as a maestro to Schweini.
Have you watched much of Man United this season? If so, what have you thought of United and David Moyes?
Rob, you know I’m a die-hard Bayern fan, but I have still suffered watching this Man United season! It’s all understandable that Moyes was never going to fill the shoes of Sir Alex, but I never imagined the quality would drop so much, hence the decline in performances. I fear that United will “do a Liverpool” for the coming seasons in EPL.
You’re a proud Kosovo citizen. A number of excellent players with ties to Kosovo have been emerging and playing at the very highest level, including Lorik Cana, Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka, and most famously Bayern’s Xherdan Shaqiri and United’s Adnan Januzaj. What do you think of Shaqiri and Januzaj, and more generally, what are your hopes for the future of Kosovo’s football?
Look at the national team of Bosnia and Herzegovina – they will be playing in the World Cup in Brazil. Kosovo is a comparable country to BiH, being only 6 years since it declared its independence, and had a war two decades ago, with a lot of emigrants living in the likes of Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, etc. A lot of talents have emerged in the recent years from families of emigrants in such countries, such as: Lorik Cana, Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Adnan Januzaj. Due to political disputes, Kosovo is not yet a member of FIFA, making it ineligible to participate neither in European nor World Cup Qualifications. The Kosovan talent cream represents either Albania which is the mother country of Kosovans too, having an Albanian ethnicity (note: 95% of Kosovans are ethnic Albanians) or other countries where such talent have grown as professionals.
I truly believe that Shaqiri and Januzaj are two very bright talents with huge potential. They really have some miraculous touch of the ball! As for the future of Kosovo’s football, a lot depends at the domestic level sport policies, investments in infrastructure, education, etc, which honestly are not in a good state at the moment. I truly believe that gathering a national team of Kosovar talents throughout European premium football leagues would comprise a great representation, but working with talents domestically is equally important and complementary to having a solid and competitive squad at the international level.
Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game? Be gentle!
Being gentle, I think United this time will go for an all-out performance. However, I think the rested squad of Bayern Munich will be able to get a positive result on Wednesday. My tip for this will be 2-1 to Bayern.