In a season where lows have succeeded themselves with impeccable regularity and always managed to outdo their predecessors, Manchester United have one last glimmer of hope to cling onto at a time of they year when they’d normally be busy booking trips to Wembley or sweating over a title run-in.
The task couldn’t be any harder. To progress to the semifinals for the first time in three seasons United must either record their first win in Munich or draw by scoring more than one goal, a feat they only managed once in four visits to Bavaria.
Bayern’s three-game winless run – a rarity at these latitudes – shouldn’t be cause of too much concern for the Bavarians, nor should if fill United with a false sense of optimism, and yet it’d be a mistake to write United off before kick-off.
The European champions have struggled against English teams before, particularly when they entered the context as the overwhelming favourites. Chelsea upset the odds and spoil Bayern’s party in the 2012 final on their way to lift the European Cup, while Arsenal secured a win and a draw at the Allianz Arena in the last two seasons and Manchester City came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 earlier this season.
David Moyes this season has been largely criticised for his outdated approach and his archaic tactics, not suited to a club of United’s attacking ethos, much as his defeatism wasn’t well received by the majority of supporters.
Last week’s clash demonstrated that United no longer relish the opportunity of going toe-to-toe against the best Europe has to offer, though United’s dogged resilience proved that Moyes is indeed a lot more comfortable when approaching a game as the underdog, rather than the favourite.
That in his first season at Old Trafford he hasn’t managed to shed such attitude and embrace a winning approach says more about him than it does about the club, but if there’s a night when his ability to make his team hard to beat could be appreciated by his detractors among the United fans, then tonight is the night.
Not only are Bayern the favourites given their form this season, they’ve also secured what could prove to be a crucial away goal and the expectation on Pep Guardiola’s men is immense.
United, on the other hand, have nothing to lose. In fact, they’ve got even less to lose than they did a week ago.
Prior to this tie, the general consensus was that United will be taught a lesson and it wasn’t a case of “if” but of “how many goals” Bayern will win by. The first leg partly upset the script and the fact that United arrive into tonight still in the tie would have surprised many among the United supporters, given the shambolic season they’ve experienced.
The expectation is all on Bayern and the fact that United can’t afford to sit back and defend might have play in their hands, given that Moyes will not be able to set his team out to build a Maginot line in front of David De Gea for 90 minutes.
Moyes, however, will not instruct his players to adopt a gung-ho approach either and while the United manager’s defensive-mindedness has driven supporters crazy throughout the campaign, it could prove to be a wise move tonight.
United have to score but are not desperate for an early goal, nor do they match Bayern in terms of quality and therefore can’t afford the game to boil down to a series of individual duels.
Organisation and team work will be pivotal to United’s chances of causing an upset, much as they were towards the latter stage of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign when, particularly in Europe, he replaced a cavalier approach with pragmatism.
Pragmatism is the mast to which Moyes has often tied his colours throughout his career, up until he arrived at Old Trafford, where the former Everton manager looks to have lost his way in the bid of replace the most successful British manager of all time.
Tonight United fans would settle for the Moyes of old: the one capable of making things hard for bigger club and pull off an upset.