United Undone By A Lack Of Planning

Whereas Chelsea planned for every eventuality against PSG, it seemed Man United were only ready for a 0-0 scoreline at the Allianz Arena as they quickly unravelled...

Last Updated: 10/04/14 at 09:22 Post Comment

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When Manchester United kick off their first Europa League match at the start of August, the 22 seconds for which they led Bayern Munich will be a distant memory. For all the hope of vindication those 22 seconds offered David Moyes, the upshot is that, barring a miracle in the final five matches of the Premier League, the English champions will enter their first campaign outside the Champions League in 19 years. Moyes may have been beating the best with just over half an hour remaining on Wednesday night, but there is a sense that it will soon be forgotten.

United's exit is difficult to take given the uncertain future that now awaits. Following the heavy defeats at home to Liverpool and Manchester City in March, the two matches against Bayern provided a welcome distraction, a chance to dream amid a nightmare season. But as the dust settles it will count for little that Moyes' finest achievements have come in Europe's elite competition. Aside from the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos, the manager has looked comfortable at this level - from the thrashings of Bayer Leverkusen through to the 57th minute in the Allianz Arena when Patrice Evra rifled United into the lead. However, in the context of the Premier League campaign United have never looked less deserving of a place in the top four, a failure for which Moyes deserves a significant share of the blame and could eventually pay for with his job.

It should be said that Moyes got most of his big decisions right against Bayern. There will be complaints from particularly demanding quarters about the continuing absence of an expansive style of play, but Bayern are clearly a superior side and had to be handled accordingly. As in the first leg, United's compact shape and promising bursts on the counter-attack offered hope that this wasn't mission impossible. The encouragement of a 0-0 scoreline at half-time was augmented by Bayern's attack being reduced to an Arjen Robben raffle - the Dutchman missing the target with each of his five attempts and Bayern failing to test David De Gea with 12 shots in total.

United were also guilty of being wasteful, however. Similar to the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, they were presented with the best chance of the first half when a searching ball from Darren Fletcher found Wayne Rooney in space. The England striker bemoaned Danny Welbeck's generosity to scuff a chip into the hands of Manuel Neuer last week but, given his own opportunity to fire United into the lead, he hesitated in trying to switch the ball to his stronger foot. It set the tone for a disappointing performance from Rooney, with two further chances resulting in scuffed attempts rather than the venom of Evra's blistering opener.

The left-back's goal brought the game to life. It may have been 'job done' for United before the break as they continued to make Bayern sweat, but it was largely tedious viewing underlined by De Gea to Welbeck being the most frequent passing combination for the visitors. Not that Moyes will care. His game plan was developing perfectly until Evra's drive afforded him his Mourinho moment. As with the Chelsea manager at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, Moyes kept his head amid the frantic scenes on the touchline, grabbing Fletcher to give the midfielder instructions on what to do next.

United barely had chance to compute the manager's words. Almost as soon as the match restarted, Franck Ribery evaded Phil Jones down the left and crossed for Mario Mandzukic to level the score. "If you're a schoolboy you get told 'make sure once you score, don't concede right away'," said Moyes in his post-match interview. "We conceded too quickly. It was always going to be a tough night and, after we got the first goal, we needed to give ourselves five or ten minutes where we could stop them getting the ball."

The failure to prevent Bayern's equaliser was only partly responsible for United's downfall. Despite the draining effect of Mandzukic's header, the visitors were still very much in the tie, needing to resort to their previous resilience to force the match into extra-time. Instead, the game was lost as United's shape disintegrated - an issue that was exacerbated by Javier Hernandez replacing Fletcher after Thomas Muller squeezed in Bayern's second.

It seemed that Moyes only had one plan, and a limited one at that. Whereas John Terry revealed that Chelsea "worked all week on what we do at 1-0, 2-0, 2-1" against Paris St-Germain before the Blues' 2-0 victory on Tuesday, United's blueprint failed to extend past 0-0. The immediate collapse after Evra's goal did not undo all the good work that had come before; it was United's failure to reorganise themselves in the nine-minute window between Mandzukic and Muller's strikes that ultimately cost them.

Perhaps that is the fault of Moyes or perhaps, with six players who have previously represented the club in Champions League finals in the team, there was enough experience on the pitch to take control of the situation. In truth, this is mere preparation for the post-mortem that is about to take place. Moyes pointed to two deflections in the build-up to Robben's strike sealing Bayern's victory, but the finer margins of Wednesday's defeat are mere drops of rain in a sea of unrest at Old Trafford.

No sooner had Moyes finished bemoaning United's luck in his post-match interview than the questions turned to his plans to sign new players now the club can no longer offer Champions League football. Speaking about potential targets, the manager said: "They know it'll be a short thing, not a long thing." Whether it his responsibility to ensure that prophecy is realised appears yet to be decided.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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