Tonight, play like Fergie’s boys United did not – in fact they haven’t done so for about nine months now – but they still managed to secure a result that gives them a chance ahead of the second leg and showed that when it matters, United, regardless of whoever is in charge, can still put up a fight against Europe’s finest.
The predicted and expected humiliation failed to materialise and for nine precious minutes after Nemanja Vidic’s header met Rooney’s header and flew into the back of the net, United had Bayern in an uncomfortable place, if not rattled.
Bayern’s equaliser gives them an advantage in the tie, but that’s a small price to pay on a night that, at times, looked like The Alamo, such was the pressure United had to withstand as the European champions came at them from every angle in 90 spirited minutes.
Ahead of the game David Moyes had claimed United, on their night, were a match for Bayern Munich, rather the plucky underdogs going to meet their destiny.
As it turned out, and as was widely expected, he couldn’t have been more wrong, for the gulf in quality and philosophy between the two sides was embarrassing. United sat back, as deep as it was humanly possible without placing 10 men on the goal line, hoofing it forward in the hope of a lucky break.
Bayern, meanwhile, played their usual game of quick passing and superb movement, though only really looked threatening when Arjen Robben tested David De Gea with half an hour gone.
In other words, United were a David Moyes team, while Bayern were a Pep Guardiola team.
Marouane Fellaini confirmed again that he’s woefully out of his depth at this level – or indeed at any level that doesn’t require facing sides in the bottom half the table – while Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones held up admirably for the first 90 minutes.
Moyes’ decision to omit Kagawa or Januzaj was made to look even more puzzling given Ryan Giggs, United’s only creative player in midfield, was desperately short of options when in possession. Not that United enjoyed possession very often, pinned in their own half by Bayern’s mesmerising passing, but when they did they looked threatening.
Danny Welbeck had a goal ruled out after three minutes after his foot was adjudged to have got too close to Javi Martinez’s head – the second time in two seasons that we suffer this kind of awful decision in Europe – and then tried to chip Manuel Neuer, when he should have just leathered the ball instead.
When Kagawa replaced the injured Giggs at halftime United struggled to look more threatening, but at least they were no longer pinned in their own half and pushed forward often enough to keep Bayern guessing.
Alex Buttner, the man who many expected to be the weak link tonight, did himself proud and ran himself into the ground before being subbed off injured in the second half. It’d be awful to say that the Dutchman’s effort was only comparable to that of Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck, for all United players did their absolute best tonight, showing an effort and an endeavour that we had been waiting for for over eight months.
Valencia was lucky to escape a second yellow card after jumping into a tackle against Jerome Boateng, while Bastian Schweinsteiger earned his marching orders for clattering Rooney with a few minutes left, thus getting himself suspended ahead of next week, like Javi Martinez.
Granted, Bayern Munich remain favourites, but nobody expected anything else ahead of the tie.. United are still in it, which is more than any of us could have predicted and next Wednesday is going to be fun. Or maybe not, but if the traveling fans can reproduce tonight’s support, then anything is possible.