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The Enemy’s Backyard

Is this their moment? Beckham… into Sheringham… and Solskjær has won it!

Words uttered by Clive Tyldesley on the night of 26 May 1999 and probably etched into the memories of Manchester United fans across the world. With a few hours remaining before the Red Devils take on their German opposition in their Last 8 UEFA Champion’s League clash, most fans of both clubs would remember that eventful night as the two European giants met at Camp Nou in Barcelona for the final match of the 1999 UEFA Champions League. Trailing for the most part of the match, Sir Alex Ferguson truly proved the monicker “Golden Substitution”. Second half substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær collaborated marvelously to shoot in two stunners in injury time and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for the Devils.

Today, after 11 years and a couple of encounters, the clubs meet again. The tournament is the same but the situation is a little different now. That night the Reds missed two of their most influential midfielders – Scholes and Keane – who were sitting out due to suspensions. Tonight, the Devils should be able to come out all guns blazing with both Rooney and Ferdinand being declared as fit to play. On the other hand, the Bavarians face an uphill task with iconic midfielder Arjen Robben almost certainly ruled out due to a calf injury sustained in a recent match while his midfield partner Franck Ribery, recovering from an ankle injury, may not make it to the starting 11, coming in as substitute if at all. Mario Gomez is set to make a return to the starting 11 but this time the Germans do not have the great Oliver “Cerberus” Kahn guarding their goal.

Coming to present form, Sir Alex Ferguson has gotten into a habit of getting his side to peak as the season reaches its crescendo. Manchester United are currently riding on a 7 match winning streak (in all competitions) that saw them thump Italian giants AC Milan first in San Siro (3-2) and then at Old Trafford (4-0) before mowing Bolton Wanderers into the ground (4-0) sans star performer Rooney. The English striker sure has hit a purple patch of form as he heads, pun intended, towards erstwhile teammate Christiano Ronaldo’s 42 goal record set in 2007. Bayern Munich on the other hand are having a torrid time losing to VfB Stuttgart 2-1 at home. What would be more concerning to FCB than the ignominy of a home defeat to a lesser side is how the defense seemed completely out of sorts and failed to protect the one goal lead their team had opened up early in the game. While Stuttgart may have stopped at 2 goals, Rooney may not be so forgiving. In the past couple of months he has shown his ample capability of turning every defensive slip up to his advantage and the back four would have their hands more than full trying to contain the young striker. Even FCB’s Champions League campaign has been a “living on the edge” one whether it was having to go through the play-offs, putting up an “out of the skin” performance against Juventus or a special strike from Robben to get past Fiorentina. It only adds to FCB’s woes that Robben will in all probability miss the match while the visitors come to Allianz stadium with a record 16 match unbeaten away streak in the competition. Even AC Milan had found the Manchester United defence hard to break down and that time both Vidic and Ferdinand were missing. This time around the centre backs will be match fit and their experience will be a major roadblock if FCB are to score.

Head-to-Head

Wayne Rooney vs Daniel van Buyten

The 24 year old English striker is in tremendous form right now and hardly anything seems to be capable of stopping his current rampage. A recurring niggle in his injured knee forced him to be rested in the campaign against Wanderers at home but it could also be Sir Alex resting his key player prior to an important week where ManU take on the German club twice in the Champions League quarter finals and play EPL title contenders Chelsea in between.

The 32 year old Belgian defender on the other hand has struggled through the season and his performance over the past few weeks can be described as ordinary at best. Wayne Rooney is known to magnify defensive lapses and with the strapping centre back’s dubious fitness and tendency to laze and walk around on the pitch aimlessly, it may just give the lightning fast duo of Valencia and Rooney the opening they need to work their magic.

Darren Fletcher vs Philipp Lahm

The absence of Arjen Robben has left a gaping void in the German side’s midfield and Lahm sure has huge shoes to fill as he steps up as chief winger for his side. A seasoned campaigner himself, Lahm has uptil now managed to bide his time in the midfield as Robben made intrusions into the opponents’ half. Not this time however, when, with the spotlight squarely on him, Lahm must assume responsibility to not only play and feed his strikers up front but also track back often to support a handicapped midfield in the absence of Robben and (probably) Ribery.

Fletcher, on the other hand, has been very skillfully used by Sir Alex. Usually the playmaker in the midfield, Fletcher played wide out against Milan to great effect. He effectively destroyed build ups in the wings and prevented the dangerous Italians from crossing into the box. Coupled with his exceptional marking abilities, Fletcher may be asked to perform an encore in which case he could spoil Lahm’s party. The icing on the cake would be if he could work the ball in to Rooney or Valencia in a goal scoring position.

Michael Carrick vs Mark van Bommel

The FCB skipper will surely miss his midfield partner Schweinsteiger who sits out of this match on a one match suspension. With a depleted midfield, the onus would now fall on the senior Dutchman to guide his team into the Devils’ goal area. Rest assured he will be shouting, screaming, kicking his way as usual through the ninety minutes of the game. Carrick, if he starts, could have a torrid time with Bommel around as the latter affords hardly any space for his opponents to breathe. Carrick may be a bit rusty not having played in some of the previous games but he has the uncanny ability to take possession early in the game and then send in passes to both sides of the goal. FCB in general and Bommel in particular would have to work really hard if they expect to control Carrick and prevent him from asking too many questions off their feeble defense.

Franck Ribery vs Gary Neville

The Frenchman has struggled with form and fitness ever since his transfer from Galatasaray. Playing in the shadow of the more prolific Robben has not helped matters for him either. But with the Dutchman most probably sidelined for the encounter, Ribery may just get his spot in the sun. Of course he is sure to run into the Manchester United captain who has had a fairly good season in the absence of regularly sidelined colleagues John O’Shea and Wes Brown. The elder statesman of English football may have to curb his natural attacking style and fall back to using his experience to contain the Frenchman. Ribery on the other hand has devious pace and maneuverability making him a hard target to mark and may therefore be more suited to the likes of younger legs like Park. Definitely, this battle will provide the most important openings for the Germans in today’s encounter.

Key Players

Franck Ribery (FCBM)

The Frenchman has one of the best opportunities this season to silence detractors and prove to the world why he is considered one of the most devastating centers in the world. Let us not forget that Spanish giants Real Madrid had offered upto €60 million for him before a spate of fitness issues caused the interest to wane and Kaka and Christiano found their way into the Spanish side instead. In all probability he will go up against Gary Neville. While Neville may not be his match in speed and maneuverability, he makes up for it with experience.

Ryan Giggs (MUFC)

The Devils’ longest serving player made a statement as he staged a spectacular comeback in ManU’s last league outing against Bolton Wanderers at Reebok Stadium. His incisive runs proved too much for the inexperienced defense and a deft cross ball in the 30th minute helped open the scoring for the visitors through their second most prolific goal scorer, Mr Own Goal!

Park Ji Sung (MUFC)

The Korean star has come of age as he has proved in the occasional games he gets to play for ManU in the regular absence of senior partners, Giggs and Scholes. He was in splendid touch when ManU hosted AC Milan in the previous leg of the tournament, marking Andrea Pirlo with such accuracy that it rendered the Italian completely ineffective allowing his club to crash to a lowly defeat. Park however may get only a place on the bench with the return of both Scholes and Giggs to the starting 11 lineup.

Antonio Valencia (MUFC)

The young Ecuadorian winger who was drafted into the side to fill the huge void left by Christiano Ronaldo’s move to Spain last year has done admirably well. Under constant pressure and scrutiny from the demanding fans, Valencia learnt on the job and has transformed into a lethal winger for Manchester United. His extreme maneuverability, incisive runs on the ball and off it and blinding pace have shook many defences in the past year and may prove to be too hot to handle for the aging German defence.

Nani (MUFC)

The Portuguese winger has, over the past few weeks, proved himself the perfect compliment to Valencia on the right, making incisive runs into the opponents’ half with the ball and making accurate long passes into dangerous positions. Previously regarded as selfish for his largely solo play, he has redeemed himself somewhat in the eyes of the fans by feeding the strikers time and again on every opportunity he has got to play. He is one of the certain starters for Manchester United for this match.

Dimitar Berbatov (MUFC)

The Bulgarian has found himself on the sidelines more often than he would prefer due to Manchester United adopting a defensive 4-5-1 formation for most of the European campaign. However, he has made full use of the opportunities he got in the local league games sending out a clear message that it is too soon to write him off. The stylish striker, whose deft nicks and backheels often flummox opponents and team mates alike, showed superb form in Saturday’s clash away at Bolton Wanderers pounding in two goals and beating the defence on many more occasions. He could get to start if Sir Alex goes back to the traditional 4-4-2 but it is highly unlikely especially seeing the success of the former formation this year.

Match view

The Germans should have learnt a lesson or two from AC Milan’s San Siro encounter with the Red Devils and would be keen to go all guns blazing in the encounter. While a victory would be the preferable result, FC Bayern Munich would settle for a draw too as long as the game stays a low scoring one so that ManU do not have too much of an away goal cushion.

Manchester United on the other hand would want to emulate their San Siro exploits in the Allianz Arena as well. A victory would be just about perfect, the goal difference being the bonus in terms of away goal margin. Since this is the first leg of the competition, a high scoring draw is also an acceptable result since the home game would still be up for grabs. However, certainly, Manchester United would prefer not to have too much pressure in the second leg which is just eight days away considering that Rooney still has a few niggles and the all important Premiership clash with Chelsea is due on Saturday too.

Final prediction: Manchester United 2 – 1 FC Bayern Munich

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  1. 1 April 2010 at 15:38 IST

    Nice blog & good post. You have beautifully maintained, you must try this website which really helps to increase your traffic. hope u have a wonderful day & awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

    • Siddharth
      1 April 2010 at 19:04 IST

      thanks lydia… will try to keep posting as often as possible

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