Shortly after midday yesterday the empty Bayern Munich team coach — in England five hours ahead of the Bundesliga champions — drove past Old Trafford on a dry run ahead of tonight’s game. At the big clubs, the small details are important.
Tonight in Manchester, Bayern and their coach, Pep Guardiola, could be forgiven for overlooking the small details. Rarely — if ever — have a German team come to England for a knockout Champions League tie identified as such overwhelming favourites.
Guardiola and his side will prepare for their night immaculately. No team win 27 games out of their last 30 — losing just one — without knowing about forward planning. Nevertheless, there is a strange smell about tonight’s quarter-final first leg against Manchester United.
So disappointing have United been this season, so deep and complex are their troubles, that it would appear inconceivable they could seriously inconvenience a team who won this competition last season and have grown stronger since.
United have defensive difficulties, too. Central defender Jonny Evans remains sidelined with a calf problem while regular full backs Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva are also expected to be absent, the first suspended and the second injured.
No wonder United’s Ryan Giggs was asked, rather optimistically, yesterday if his team would look to invoke ‘the spirit of 1999’ in a bid to take something from tonight’s game ahead of next week’s return in Bavaria. ‘We won’t do that, some of the lads probably don’t remember it,’ said Giggs with a smile, in reference to United’s dramatic triumph against Bayern in the final 15 years ago.
‘They are the holders and they have had a fantastic season. We know we are up against a team with great individuals and a great team. We know it is a tough task.’
Giggs was the perfect choice as partner for Moyes at yesterday’s press conference. The 40-year-old player-coach can be relied on for a carefully considered clarion call ahead of a big game. He, for one, still looks affronted at the very thought of United losing any game.
The fact he has a better than even chance of starting tonight’s match, though, says much about United’s troubles. Despite Saturday’s 4-1 win at home to Aston Villa in the Barclays Premier League, Moyes and United continue to look like a group searching for answers. The make-do-and-mend approach to selection for the Olympiacos game in the last round — featuring a recall for Giggs — was enough to get them through then.
It was still seat-of-the-pants stuff, though, and United must find something at least 50 per cent more convincing if they are not to go to Germany a week today with the second leg all but academic.
Certainly, Moyes knows the size of the task. Yet again yesterday, he suggested he needs time in his job to build a new United. The job in front of him tonight, though, is perhaps greater than anything he has faced in 15 years of management.
‘I came into this competition as an inexperienced manager in the Champions League but we have done well and now we have the ultimate test,’ he said. ‘I am really looking forward to coming up against Pep. It is the first time I have done, but I have no doubt I will be doing it many times in the future.
‘He had a year to get ready for the Bayern job and has done incredibly well. I think the pressure is equally balanced. We want to win the game as much as Bayern.
‘We know on our day we are as good a side as any. We don’t show it often enough but I have great belief in the players.’
Moyes’ comments run contrary to what he suggested on Friday — when he said his predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson, would have struggled with these players — and also flies in the face of plain evidence.
Tonight, Moyes must dip his hand into a box marked ‘miracle’ and hope.
In terms of his approach, it would have been easy to borrow some of his predecessor’s gung-ho vernacular yesterday. As it was, Moyes hinted at caution, suggesting too much emphasis on front-foot football tonight could rebound in the goals against column.
‘It is a two-legged game and we have to make sure the two legs are important, both games,’ he said. ‘We have to be mindful that we want to go out to Germany with an opportunity to go through.
‘Bayern are probably the side most people have looked to recently. But we have to go into the game knowing we have to get a good result to take to Germany.’
Moyes has been criticised by some United supporters for his rather cautious rhetoric this season. Ultimately, that doesn’t really matter.
The United manager meets Europe’s best coach and its best team tonight. Here, he was right to be reserved. – Daily Mail