Having spent the first leg defending in the trenches that were dug around their 16-yard box while trying to hit Bayern on the counter, United travel to Germany knowing that, at some stage during the game, they’ll have to shed the ponderous and dithering cloth they’ve worn all season and attack.
Resolutely. Like they’ve seldom done in this most beleaguered of campaigns.
If the “one step forward, two steps backward” pattern that United have established this season is anything to go by, expect the Reds to suffer a catastrophic defeat at Newcastle tomorrow,having delivered one of the most unexpected results of the season on Tuesday night.
The fact United travel to the North East with all the focus on Wednesday’s return leg in Munich is extremely surprising, given the general – and justified – doom and gloom that surrounded the club ahead of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw. The trip to Bavaria is firmly in the minds of players and fans alike, particularly considering that United have nothing left to play for in the Premier League, as it’s been to the case for the last month or so.
The last time Bayern Munich traveled to Old Trafford, they found themselves 3-0 down in less than 20 minutes, only to claw their way back into the game thanks, in no small part, to Rafael’s sending off, before Arjen Robben’s wonder strike ensured they’d progress to the semifinal.
Such heroics are not likely to be needed tonight, when the German and European champions face United in what is arguably the most unbalanced of the four quarter finals and will likely prove to be the Reds’ last Champions League at Old Trafford for who knows how long.
“These are wonderful times to be a Manchester United fan, particularly as the Reds look to clinch their 20th title when Aston Villa visit Old Trafford tomorrow.” No, I haven’t lost my marbles – not all of them anyway – I simply thought that nothing would illustrate how far we’ve fallen this season as the different circumstances surrounding this fixture eight months ago, hence the choice to recycle a line from last season.
In April, Aston Villa were nothing more than a sparring partner for United, a side that could have delayed our 20th title but chose not to and were blown away in just over 30 minutes, as United rubber stamped their league triumph.
It had to happen eventually and it has. The roles have swapped and for the first time in almost three decades City arrive at Old Trafford as firm favourites. It’s them chasing the title (after dreams of a Quad…ops Treb…have been stupendously dashed) and it’s United who have got nothing else to play for if not local pride and, small time though it might sound, the chance of scuppering City’s title bid.
The caveat to that, of course, is that beating City tonight might hand Liverpool a significant boost in the title race and if it came down to City and Liverpool, I think we both know who we’d rather see lifting the trophy – spoiler alert: they don’t play in red and they don’t revel in self-pitying – but it’s hard to fathom the prospect of going into a derby without wanting to win it.
There’s no rest for the wicked and so, just three days after producing the sort of performance we had been demanding since August, United turn their attention back to the Premier League, desperately hoping to build on Wednesday’s positives to arrive to Tuesday’s night derby in slightly more buoyant mood than they’ve been all season.
United have made their life complicated all season and Saturday’s trip to East London is far from being an appealing prospect, given the Reds’ seemingly unwavering determination to make things difficult for themselves whenever they face West Ham at Upton Park, where West Ham have won their last three league games and where United have conceded at least twice in their last four visits.
The final nail in the coffin? Some desperately needed positives or just another routine disappointment followed by the usual post-match interview filled with regrets and coated in mild disappointment? Nobody quite knows what we can expect from tonight, although the chances of United bidding farewell to the Champions League are far greater than to see progress to the quarter finals.
It could, in many ways, be an emotional night at Old Trafford: probably United’s last Champions League appearance after 19 consecutive years and one which could determine David Moyes’ future and therefore the club’s future, the immediate one as well as the long-term one.
Forget about finishing seventh and having to make do with the Europa League next season, forget about relinquishing any chances of defending the title as early as in December, forget even about the utterly dire football we have witnessed over the last eight months: Sunday’s is the game David Moyes simply can’t afford to lose.
He can’t afford to lose it because patience is wearing thin after a dismal campaign, he can’t afford to lose it because it’d represent another set-back ahead of Wednesday’s already desperate task of overturning a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League and, first and foremost, he can’t afford to lose it because it’s Liverpool.