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How Manchester United Can Beat Bayern In 3 Steps

Vidic GoalOn Tuesday night, Manchester United put in an admirable performance against the reigning European champions, Bayern Munich to earn themselves a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. The desire and discipline shown by the players was crucial to United’s success. However equally as essential was the way manager David Moyes set up the team. In this post I will be discussing how David Moyes set up his team at Old Trafford and what he must do to help Manchester United qualify for the Champions League Semi-Finals on their road to Lisbon

Fellani For Kagawa

Moyes set up a very defensive 4-5-1 with Giggs, Carrick and Fellani in a 3 man midfield. Moyes predicted (like everyone else) that Bayern would dominate possession and thus United needed that extra cover for a fragile looking back four. While the concept of a 3 man midfield was good it did have a couple of flaws.

The primary flaw was the choice of Fellani as a Defensive Midfielder. Fellani was tasked to break up play and fight for headers. Fellani lost all but one of his seven aeriel duels and was unable to successfully complete a tackle throughout the 90 minutes. As a result Bayern were able to hold 65% of possession.

In midfield Moyes must simply accept that Fellani was ineffective and must replace him with Kagawa. This would result in United playing the following starting XI to successfully accommodate Kagawa:


Kagawa has shown, specially against Villa where he played the defense splitting pass to Mata, that he the ability to thread the ball through to men in space. Playing at CAM will allow him the space to do this however he will not have time. Bayern under Pep press and do not allow players time on the ball. This will apply specially for Kagawa who has a fantastic record against Bayern (5 Games – 1 Draw, 4 Wins) .

The image here shows the intensity of Bayern’s pressing under Pep Guardiola. Every single one of their players puts in a defensive shift. That is the beauty of playing Robben and Ribery. They are fantastic forwards however they also have the discipline to track back and help out the defense when needed. That discipline is what we will require of Kagawa as well. A common misconception is that Kagawa is a’free roaming’ player and thus does not track back. Part of that statement is true as Kagawa does often float around the pitch to create space for himself.  However he is also a great presser of the ball. At Dortmund he was disciplined and was one of the hardest runners off the ball. He closed down opponents and denied them space.

Against Bayern where United will not have possession for large periods of the game Kagawa may have to drop deeper into a 3 man midfield. United would change shape into a 4-3-3 with Valencia and Welbeck on the wings. Shinji would not physically challenge, as he does not have the physicality to do so however he would press and deny the Bayern men space and time, something they crave. This will however NOT impact his forward game as he will be the most advanced midfielder with the least defensive responsibility. On the counter is where our opportunities will lie and his vision and passing will be key to our success scoring this way.

We Must Counter Attack As A Unit

Some of you might not like the selection of Valencia on the wings however there is good reason why I chose Welbeck and him. They are both extremely hard workers and track back their opposing full backs meticulously. Other more creative players such as Januzaj are not yet disciplined enough to do this and would let their man go free on occasions which could result in a goal. We all know what happened to Ozil when Bayern faced Arsenal.

Ozil, a creative player who does not track back often enough let his opposing full back go free on occasions. His selfish work ethic was widely criticized by pundits. That is the last thing we want for Januzaj. To perform on big stages you need to develop discipline as well as talent. He might have an abundance of the latter however his lacking of the former means he is not quite ready for the big stage, YET.

At this point you may wonder why I am making such a big fuss about tracking back on the wings. I advise you to have a look at the following image below.

Rafinha provides width rafqazis blog

As the image shows Robben has dragged Buttner inwards and in the process left acres of space on the United left flank. This space is primed for Bayern LB Rafinha to run right into. He gallops into this space and is fed with a long cross field diagonal ball from the midfield. Now he has time and more importantly a lot of space to put in a cross. This is how Bayern scored. Rafinha was allowed space because Buttner could not leave Robben. Rafinha was fed the ball from midfield and then he put in a perfect cross from Mandzukic. Mandzukic set the ball up for Schweinsteiger who scored with a thumping half-volley.

Some might argue that is a good goal, and they’re right, it is! However it is also an easily avoidable goal! It occurred because Moyes was too attacking! 

We were 1-0 up and instead of deploying Welbeck on the LW he allowed him to stay up top. This resulted in him not tracking back and providing Rafinha space. If Welbeck had been told to revert back to his original position on the wing than the goal could have been avoided. Moyes however gambled and left Welbeck up top in the hope we could get another goal! A Manchester United like approach for Moyes, however his gamble did not yield any results, this time.

Against Bayern on Wednesday we must make sure that our two wingers are tracking back all the runs from the full backs. When we do get possession they must break together. Valenica and Welbeck are also blessed with supreme pace and could out run their opposing full backs, who would be commuted forward. On the counter they must exploit the open space. They must get behind the Bayern back line! For that to happen they need the perfect through ball from Kagawa who will have to be on top form. For this strategy to be effective though they need to break together. If both attacked together then Bayern would have to cover an extra man and would have to track his run as well. This would result in Bayern getting stretched. The man on the ball could then put in a cross to Rooney against a vulnerable and stretched Bayern back line.

Keep the Defensive Line Consistent 

Despite the lack of possession being a problem for United, it was a passive problem. Bayern are heavily reliant on their wide players, Robben and Ribery to unlock the opposition. Both Manchester United full backs halted the progress of their opponents and nullified most threats.

rsz_robben_shots_vs_mufcThis resulted in frustration for the two Bayern wide men who are used to embarrassing full backs in the Bundasliga. This frustration in turn, lead to them taking pot shots in the hope of a goal. These shots were ether wide or saved by De Gea, who has come leaps and bounds this season!

The graphic shows Arjen Robben, venting his frustration. Only 1 of his 6 attempted shots was a threat. The only threat was excellently dealt with by De Gea. The rest simply gifted us back much needed possession.

The nullification of these two wide men is one hell of a task that no full back looks forward to. However our men Phil Jones and Alexander Buttner stepped up to the plate and made Robben and Ribery look ordinary for the most part. I would like to congratulate Buttner in particular, who despite speculation put in a fantastic shift and tamed Robben. He was later quite rightfully nominated for Man Of The Match.

In central defense Vidic and Rio rolled back the years and defended like the unit that had once made them an impenetrable force. Vidic in particular was magnificent. The ruthless Serbian reminded every single Manchester United supporter why he will be missed. He was a rock at the back, completing 13 clearances and making 2 match winning tackles deep in his own box. However his real moment of glory came in the 58th minute when he expertly guided a Rooney corner into the back of the Bayern net to give United the lead. 

If we wish to qualify for the semi finals a water tight defense will be required. All four of the Manchester United defenders put in excellent displays and earned the right to start again next week at the Allianz.

Key Points 

  • Replace Fellani with Kagawa as Kagawa provides a lot more creativity and nearly as much defensive cover. On the break he is a lot more dangerous as discussed. You might have also noticed that I replaced Giggs with Fletcher. Giggs was also ineffective against Munich and only managed to complete 6/10 passes. It was hardly surprising considering his lack of match fitness. In comparison Fletcher completed 92% of his 78 passes in his last game vs West Ham. I understand the Hammers are no where near Bayern’s level, but his recent good form warrants an appearance at the big stage once again.
  • Use Welbeck and Valencia on the wings because they track back and cover the runs of the Bayern full backs. However going forward they are lethal due to their sheer speed. They will be especially useful on the ounter when they can run at the vacated space left by Bayern’s attacking full backs.
  • A watertight defense will be necessary to combat Bayern in their back yard. All 4 defenders will have to be on top of their game, specially our full backs. Robben and Ribery are clever players and roam around the pitch. They are both often found on the same flank making over lapping runs. To stop this being lethal we need our own wingers tracking back.

 Thanks for reading my post and please feel free to leave me feedback and your suggestions in the comments!

This post was written by Rafae Qazi and you can follow his Man Utd Blog here.

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