Crumbs of comfort
We are not saying that Manchester United will beat Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, but Daniel Storey finds reasons for potential optimism for supporters...
By Daniel Storey - @danielstorey85
Last Updated: 31/03/14 2:15pm
Whilst it would be foolish to criticise a defence that has conceded just 15 league goals this season, it is clear that Brazilian defender Dante has been a key factor behind such miserliness. The centre-half, who signed an extension to his contract last week, must be one of Europe's most improved performers over the last three years and has usually been the senior member of a partnership alongside either Javi Martinez (when fit) or Jerome Boateng. Even considering Dante's presence, Bayern have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven matches.
However, Dante is suspended for the first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford after picking up his third booking in the competition against Arsenal, leaving Bayern manager Pep Guardiola with three options. Boateng and Martinez could be picked as a pair, something attempted by Bayern recently during their match away at Mainz, when they often looked shaky defensively (as much as Bayern ever do). Alternatively, Philip Lahm could drop in to a central defensive role, with Martinez taking over Lahm's now familiar holding midfield role.
The third option is to pick Daniel van Buyten at the back, and the 36-year-old was paired with Dante for the weekend fixture against Hoffenheim. Given that Bayern conceded three times in a 3-3 draw, United boss David Moyes may be crossing his fingers that Van Buyten gets a second chance.
Whatever the answer, Dante's absence gives United a genuine weakness to attempt to exploit in a line-up that otherwise provides very little cause for optimism. The obvious advice would be to start the match quickly with the intention of testing the central defensive pair early in the game.
It has not exactly been difficult to better their rotten domestic displays, but there is little doubt that United's best performances this season have come in the Champions League. A record of five wins and two draws in eight matches indicates a sharp improvement on their pitiful Premier League showings, and should provide a modicum of comfort to supporters.
What is more, the best display by far from United under Moyes came against German opposition, a 5-0 routing of Bayer Leverkusen in the BayArena. Coincidentally, this was also the last ground at which Bayern dropped league points before Saturday.
That night, Wayne Rooney was the star of the show as United were forced to perform without an injured Robin van Persie. Rooney had a hand in four of the goals and operated as the lone centre-forward in front of a trio of Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia and Nani. With Van Persie again injured (and Juan Mata ineligible), David Moyes has the option of attempting to recreate that formation by replacing at least one of those three with Danny Welbeck or Adnan Januzaj.
Another dominating presence that night was a certain Ryan Giggs, who played a significant part in the victory over Olympiakos before then since being omitted from United's squad entirely for three of the four matches, and left as an unused sub against Aston Villa this weekend.
So, does Moyes again turn to his old man in midfield with the hope of playing another couple of sumptuous passes to Rooney?
Bayern's Struggles Against English Teams
Given that this is a side who have gone 53 Bundesliga matches without defeat, dropping just eight points in their last 45 domestic matches, it seems unlikely that form should play in any part in a positive spin on the tie as far as United are concerned, but there is one chink in Bayern's armour - their form against English sides.
In the last 18 months alone, Manchester City and Arsenal have beaten Bayern, whilst Chelsea (and Arsenal again) have drawn matches against the same opposition. In fact, of their last 11 matches against English opposition, Bayern have won just four, also losing four and drawing three.
Now it is not to suggest this is foolproof evidence. Bayern got past Arsenal in each of their last two seasons, their home defeat by City came in a match that was approaching meaningless for the German side and they beat Chelsea on penalties following the Super Cup 'draw'.
Given that Bayern's last three home games against English teams have ended in two defeats and a draw, if United could somehow take a lead (or even a draw) to the Allianz Arena then all should not be lost. They need only to look to the example set by James Milner and co. in December, and that night remained the only time in the last three years that Bayern have conceded more than twice at home in any competition before Saturday's second-string line-up drew 3-3 - United have done it twice in two weeks.
Finally, despite Bayern's two-goal victory at the Emirates, it is important to note that until Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's red card, Bayern did not dominate Arsenal, and would have fallen behind had Mesut Ozil's penalty been of better quality. United have taken four points from Arsene Wenger's side this season, and so the mantra must be that if Arsenal can lose 3-1 on aggregate after playing for almost a third of the tie with 10 men, United can trouble this Bayern side.