Two days after David Moyes had declared Manchester United could win the Champions League this season, the cruellest of blows to those hopes paired his side with the foremost team in European competition and the favourites in Uefa’s premier tournament.
It’s not just the cruelty of the tie – as well as the wicked humour of a spiritual entity working beyond; the football Gods, as we say – it’s the coincidence of having these two clubs paired together at this time, a period in United’s history where they want to and need to be more like Bayern.
Fans of opposing teams in Germany will cringe at such a thought: more like Bayern. Who would want to be more like Bayern? After all, this is a team who are perceived to be destroying German football – a premise that has rightly been challenged as nonsense. Bayern Munich are a financial powerhouse, built in such a way that completely contrasts Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG, and those of that ilk. The Bavarians are mainstays, obsessed with tradition and doing things ‘the right way.’ Not too dissimilar to their counterparts at Old Trafford, who opted for the principle of longevity played out with dignity and respect.
Bayern have just simply done things better. Alex Ferguson has long been an admirer of the way Bayern are run. He wants the same for United: old players taking up roles of importance either among the coaching staff or in the club’s hierarchy. It’s very much about continuity and the upholding of tradition.
Even the upbringing and development of young players is to be envied. Where United are fielding Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, Bayern possess Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos. It’s no surprise that United are said to be desperate to land Kroos as a means to upgrade their midfield and build around for the foreseeable future.
By the time this tie rolls around next month, Bayern will be crowned Bundesliga champions. That they’re in the Champions League quarter-finals is no surprise. Their opponents, on the other hand, appear a little incongruous considering their domestic struggles and the quality held by almost all others competing at this stage of the competition.
If Moyes will be looking for an ounce of hope to cling on to by thinking Bayern may lower their game after having successfully defended the league title – and that they haven’t been at 100 per cent domestically of late – he’ll face even further cruelty by being reminded that Pep Guardiola simply won’t allow it.
The same question sounded off at various stages last season: how can Guardiola top this? For most, he’s already improved on Jupp Heynckes’ work, which was a refinement of what Louis van Gaal brought to the club previously. Even more so, from his days at Barcelona, we know the kind of man and manager Guardiola is. Absolutely committed to his work, obsessed, like his current club, with detail, and a manager whose own professionalism was and is told by his players’ continued focus until the final whistle.
Moyes will be without Robin van Persie, sidelined through injury, and Juan Mata, cup-tied from his involvement in the competition with Chelsea. At Bayern it’s notably different, where we really don’t know Guardiola’s strongest XI – another sizeable advantage against any opposition.
The midfield is packed with options, both in personnel and tactical formations. Against Arsenal, Guardiola tinkered with his side – as he’s grown accustomed to doing so – by moving Philipp Lahm into midfield to control the game. When his side met Dortmund earlier in the season, Javi Martinez was pushed further up field into the No.10 position as a means to win the aerial battle and bypass Dortmund’s pressing game.
Thiago Alcantara has been sensational for periods of this season; Toni Kroos’ reputation continues to grow, deservedly; and Bastian Schweinsteiger was once again the match-winner this past weekend against Mainz. And this is to completely ignore what Bayern have in the wide positions and further ahead with Mario Goetze. Yes, United do need to be more like Bayern.
Overwhelming favourites or not, Bayern have perfected the ideal to which United have set out to replicate.