David Moyes was left lamenting Manchester United’s draw at Cardiff at the weekend, but he could well be far more content if the same outcome results from his side’s trip to Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday. United have thus far emerged with draws from both their Champions League away games under his charge, with Moyes apparently happy to take a single point on the road, as long as they get all three at Old Trafford. So far that plan has panned out, but with two matches of a tight Group A remaining, there is now little margin for error.
United had a total of three shots on target in away draws against Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad. The palatable strategy of going away and keeping things tight is one that arguably suits Moyes’s pragmatic style more than having the onus upon him to break down the opposition. Even United’s only major win this season, against Arsenal, came through a battling rather than free-flowing display.
The Premier League champions may have won four out of their last five league encounters heading into the trip to Wales, but they failed to produce a complete performance in any of them. United could lament the concession of an injury-time equalizer but could have few complaints that a draw was a fair reflection of the match.
After twice going in front, United failed to control the game, with Michael Carrick’s influence missed in the center of the pitch. The midfielder’s absence with an Achilles injury will continue for several more weeks, while Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic will also again be missing on Wednesday. Those three represent the experienced spine of the team, which would be a big loss for any side. Unlike many of the top clubs, though, United currently lack the depth of quality to effectively compensate. There are too many players -- the likes of Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Chris Smalling and even Javier Hernandez -- who have yet to step up and show that they can stamp their authority on a club with Manchester United’s ambitions.
Given the absentees, and given that a draw will leave United with their fate in their own hands to seal top spot in their group at home to Shaktar Donetsk on Matchday Six, Moyes is unlikely to be overly adventurous in Germany.
That is could well make for a dull evening on the banks of the Rhine. Leverkusen’s default tactics under Sami Hyypia have been to sit deep and look to prosper on the break. It has garnered the Finn success thus far in his first season in sole charge, with Leverkusen currently the closest challengers to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
However, at Old Trafford in September, Leverkusen were guilty of being far too defensive and allowing United complete control. It wasn’t until the second half that they came out of their shell and found that they could actually cause their illustrious opposition problems, before they eventually went down 4-2. Hyypia could have some success with a bold approach against a United side likely lacking in confidence and missing three key players. Still, with Leverkusen missing key attacker Sidney Sam and a draw also keeping their hopes of making the Round of 16 in their own hands, pragmatism is set to prevail all-round.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Manchester United