For eight second-half minutes Nemanja Vidic’s headed goal had Manchester Untied in dreamland, but a perfectly struck equalizer from Bastian Schweinsteiger secured Bayern Munich an away goal and the advantage heading back to Germany in a week’s time.
Given the pessimism that has surrounded Manchester United throughout David Moyes’s first season in charge, it was certainly a credible performance from the Premier League champions. In keeping the tie still very much alive, they have already exceeded most expectations. Still, the reality is they now face an even bigger task if they are to progress against the European champions in the Allianz Arena.
While Moyes may be unqualified for a job of this magnitude, what he did show at Everton was the ability to set up a team to be difficult to break down. And that’s exactly what he did in the first half. It may have been galling to a United fan to see their team play in the manner of a massive underdog, but for the most part it frustrated Bayern successfully. United could even have been in front at the break had Danny Welbeck not spurned a golden chance.
When Ryan Giggs went off injured at the break, Shinji Kagawa came on and unsurprisingly added some pace and an ability on the ball that had been so lacking from his side in the opening 45 minutes. And the United crowd was stunned into raptures when Vidic headed in Wayne Rooney’s corner just before the hour mark. Still, a Bayern side not at their best, but never the less unflustered, quickly got back on level terms when Schweinsteiger struck an exquisite half-volley.
It proved to be the midfielder’s last significant contribution of the tie after he picked up his second yellow card when Rooney made the most of a late challenge in the final minute of the 90. His absence and that of Thiago Alcantara’s may add to the optimism at Old Trafford, but the return of Dante and the incredible squad at Pep Guardiola’s disposal should leave no doubt that Bayern will start the second leg as strong favorites.
They began the first leg the same way, but Manchester United almost delivered a stunning blow in the first three minutes. Welbeck looked to have done superbly to juggle the ball away from both Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez, but was adjudged to have done so with a dangerously high boot and by the time the forward blasted the ball into the net the whistle had gone and Manuel Neuer had stopped.
The match then settled into a familiar and unsurprising pattern. Not only did the nature of the game aid Moyes’s pragmatic, but limited tactics, it also played into the hands of the immobile defensive duo of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand who performed stoically. United retreated with four defenders on the edge of their own box and three midfielders sitting narrowly in front of them. The approach meant that Bayern could enjoy almost complete domination of the ball and when they did lose it, their pressing either won it back instantly or it was gifted back by United’s too-often purposeless or anxious passing.
Bayern, though, were struggling to create chances. There was some early success when Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery doubled up on occasion down both flanks. Robben’s propensity for firing away shots also looked as likely as any outlet to provide the opening goal. It was the Dutchman who had Bayern’s first shot on target 30 minute in with a typical left-footed curling effort that David de Gea did well to turn wide.
Yet, while hardly seeing any of the ball, United still created the best chance of the half. Missing the suspended Dante, Bayern’s defense looked less than convincing. And they were exposed when Wayne Rooney played in Welbeck, who easily shook off the attentions of Jerome Boateng to get clean through on goal but failed to get the necessary purchase on a dink that turned into a harmless scoop and allowed Manuel Neuer to stand firm and claw the ball away.
That may yet prove to be a pivotal moment in the tie. It was quickly forgotten, though, when United began the second half with greater positivity. Giggs’ injury proved to be a blessing and Kagawa, who was a major part of a Borussia Dortmund side that ripped Bayern Munich apart in his last match before leaving Old Trafford, showed why he should have been given a far more prominent role at his current club.
Bayern, who had celebrated their early Bundesliga title win last week, looked unusually flustered when put under pressure. And some poor defending led to them falling behind. Despite being allowed to run free, Vidic still had much work to do as he peeled off from a corner, but the United skipper produced a stunning header to send it into the bottom corner.
Guardiola responded instantly by bringing on Mario Mandzukic for Thomas Muller and given United’s tactics there is a strong argument that he should have started with the conventional striker. Just three minutes the Croatian played a key role in Bayern getting a potentially priceless away goal. Rafinha’s deflected cross found its way to the back post where Manduzkic rose to head it back into the center of the box where Fellaini crucially allowed Schweinsteiger to run past him and strike an expertly controlled half-volley into the roof of the net.
Bayern had the chances to go ahead but Robben couldn’t find the target with a curling left-footed effort or after hesitation in the United box allowed him to strike with his weaker right foot.
The home side were fortunate too when Antonio Valencia escaped a second yellow card for a thunderous late tackle on Boateng. Schweinsteiger did not get off as lightly from his late challenge from which Rooney flung himself theatrically to the ground.
Despite having a man advantage United failed to take the initiative in the three minutes of injury time to attempt to get a goal that would have changed the complexion of the tie. As it is, despite a pride-restoring performance, Moyes’ men now face the very different proposition of having to go to United and score if they are to prevent this from being the last Champions League match at Old Trafford for at least 18 months.