Would Fergie Have Bettered Moyes' Bayern Result?

Both Bayern and United feature in Matthew Stanger's Champions League Winners, alongside PSG and Gareth Bale. Marouane Fellaini and Chelsea aren't as lucky...

Last Updated: 03/04/14 at 13:00 Post Comment

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Winners

Real Madrid and Gareth Bale
Booed in the 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano at the weekend following the Clasico defeat to Barcelona, Gareth Bale silenced his critics with a third-minute strike to set the tone for Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.

Real needed an impressive performance to put their recent struggles behind them and they took a big step closer to 'La Decima' as their grasp on La Liga loosens. "Real Madrid's dream right now is to win the Champions League," said Carlo Ancelotti before the victory against Dortmund. Well, he would say that after defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla saw the club slip to third in La Primera's three-horse race.


The Two Diegos
Not as fascinating a subject for a documentary film as The Two Escobars (which you can, and should, watch here) but decisive in Atletico Madrid's invaluable 1-1 draw away to Barcelona. While little Diego put Atleti in front with the sort of goal that makes you shout 'woof', 'bosh' and other silly things, Simeone continues to mastermind his team's unlikely challenge on two fronts. He'll be a wanted man in the summer, that's for sure.


Thibaut Courtois
Another fine display in the Nou Camp on the night before Petr Cech - largely consistent this season but still prone to the odd error - let in Javier Pastore's strike at his near post to give Chelsea a mountain to climb against PSG. Courtois is set to meet Jose Mourinho at the end of the season to decide his future, but surely Mourinho should already be convinced that the Belgian is ready to be his number one.


PSG
'Chelsea are the favourites!' cried Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 'No, PSG should win!' responded Mourinho. 'But Chelsea are still favourites,' whined Thiago Motta after PSG's 3-1 win on Wednesday.

At least the match wasn't as boring as the tedious pressure-shifting subplot.


Bayern Munich
Still expected to progress next week, but they will have to perform much better if they are to become the first holders to retain the trophy.

It's perhaps preposterous to question any of Pep Guardiola's decisions, but the performance of substitute Mario Mandzukic reinforced this column's opinion before the game that the Croatian should have started. With Bayern forced to launch balls into the box as Manchester United sat deep, Mandzukic would have been a more convincing option against Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand than the disappointing Thomas Muller. That he assisted Bastian Schweinsteiger's equaliser with a deft header only four minutes after his introduction supports the argument. I would expect him to start the second leg, with Muller - the 'Raumdeuter' - sent on to take advantage of the space in the second half as United tire from chasing the tie.


Manchester United and David Moyes
There seemed to be a consensus in the media on Wednesday that Manchester United's 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich was another sign of the English champions sliding into mediocrity under David Moyes. But that isn't necessarily true in this particular example. Of course, expectations have certainly been lowered during the manager's first season in charge and United now require an unlikely result in Munich to secure their progress to the semi-finals. However, both in isolation and in the context of the rest of the season, Tuesday's performance deserves a significant amount of praise.

Being second best against Bayern Munich has very little to do with Moyes' turbulent tenure. It would be somewhat unfair to the incumbent to suggest that Sir Alex Ferguson would have fared any better against a team universally recognised as the world's best (remember his 'plan' against Barcelona in 2011?), while claiming that the reaction to the first leg draw suggests United are happy to accept diminishing returns under Moyes ignores two key points. Firstly, the manager and fans were pleased with the performance, not the result; and secondly, there are few (if any) coaches in the game who could have taken United to Bayern's level in only nine months.

As Sarah Winterburn wrote here, this tie allowed Moyes to play to his strengths - something he has often failed to do this season. Whereas United have repeatedly looked open at the back in the Premier League, on Tuesday they suffocated the space in the defensive third and limited Bayern to pot shots from distance. In some ways the match resembled the 2-2 draw with Fulham, with United playing the part of the Cottagers as Bayern hoofed 19 crosses into the box in the first half with only one finding a teammate. Perhaps that sounds like an insult, but Fulham did what they had to do to get a result - and United were not far away from pulling off a famous victory.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and recognising inferiority should not always be seen as a weakness. When Moyes suggested Liverpool were favourites ahead of their trip to Old Trafford in March, he deserved to be derided. It was the same when he said United should aspire to be like Manchester City; against Bayern his acknowledgement of the circumstances was entirely appropriate. We have previously criticised Arsene Wenger for failing to take such measures against the same opponent, while Jose Mourinho would no doubt have adopted a similar approach to Moyes.

Not only that, but United's performance wasn't merely a siege mentality as they clearly demonstrated plenty of intent to hit their opponents on the break. This was immediately perceived by the crowd, who responded accordingly as soon as an opportunity to counter-attack presented itself. At times it was frustrating to see long balls out of defence land in the stands or at the feet of Philipp Lahm, but playing the percentages enabled the hosts to create the two best chances of the first half.

The first was denied by another call for a high boot, a decision that proved so contentious when Nani was dismissed against Real Madrid last season. On this occasion it seemed a little harsh to penalise Danny Welbeck, who finished emphatically in the third minute only to see his goal disallowed. It was then unfortunate to see that precision evade the striker after he beat Jerome Boateng to a hopeful through-ball. Everything Welbeck did was right, up to the point that he tried to chip Manuel Neuer. He simply had too much time to think about the situation.

Time was not really an issue United had to focus on, as Bayern set the rhythm with their metronomic passing. But Moyes was rightly delighted with the efforts of his team both with and without the ball. Rarely has he appeared satisfied that the players have followed his instructions in a troubled campaign but in the aftermath of Tuesday's draw the manager was confident that both he and the players had given their very best.

Of course, that alone should not be enough to earn Moyes another year to prove himself. It is only one match, after all, and comes quickly after 3-0 home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City in which the manager looked woefully out of his depth. However, it was the sort of display that could ignite a revival of sorts from United, even outwith whatever occurs in the second leg.

We have written many times that Moyes should be replaced in a season of repeated failures that is destined to end in the loss of Champions League competition, but he can still strengthen his position with significant improvement between now and the end of the season. Perhaps Tuesday's performance was just another sticking plaster but, even if that is the case, it might help Moyes in his quest to prove he can find a long-term cure in the remaining seven matches of the campaign. And yes, that does give United no chance in the second leg. Someone stick the humble pie in the oven for next Thursday morning.


Losers


Marouane Fellaini
There was nothing in any way unfair about the opinions expressed in this article. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that Marouane Fellaini could have - and could still - offered something to Manchester United's midfield, and yet also contest that he was hideously over-priced and that his performances thus far have been far below what was reasonably expected. These are not mutually exclusive views.

Perhaps some believe that it is the fault of the player himself for failing to adapt - and there are some mitigating circumstances in his injury record - but Fellaini is the one player who should certainly have responded to Moyes' methods this season. That he hasn't yet come close to his Everton form - despite appearing in ten of 15 matches between mid-September and the end of November and eight of the last nine fixtures (indicating he has been given a run in the team when fit) - is a responsibility shared by both the Belgian and his manager. There aren't many £27.5m signings who are excused for showing such little promise in their first season.

Of course that should raise doubts over whether Moyes deserves a war chest in the summer. If you spend £65m on two players and neither is performing anywhere near their best, then it is to be expected that you will receive criticism. Fellaini was the worst player on the pitch on Tuesday, and yet the third most expensive. Being entrusted to carry out a squad overhaul that Moyes has claimed is necessary requires the manager not only to spot talent, but to assess an appropriate price - given that his funds won't be limitless - and also provide evidence that he can gain the maximum contribution possible from new players. Moyes has failed in that aspect thus far.


Borussia Dortmund
A sign of what might be to come when Robert Lewandowksi, who was suspended on Wednesday, departs for Bayern Munich in the summer. Will Jurgen Klopp want one more shot at rebuilding his Dortmund team following a difficult season hampered by injuries, or would he be tempted by offers from Arsenal and Manchester United, should both clubs decide the time is right for change?

Klopp may have signed a new contract in October (which arguably had more significance as a reward for taking Dortmund to the final than his ongoing commitment) but he appears to be at a crossroads this summer. The 46-year-old certainly has a strong connection with Dortmund, but let's not forget that he was at Mainz for 19 years as a player and manager before moving to the Westfalenstadion. It is not beyond imagination that he could seek a new challenge.


Chelsea
A fine mess as Chelsea's season continues to collapse and Jose Mourinho, consistently lauded for his motivating skills, begins to turn on his players. This column has previously suggested that the manager risked a self-fulfilling prophecy by constantly writing off his team, and that has surely played some part in the Blues' struggles as the season goes to the wire.

Following recent defeats to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace - as well as the draws against West Ham and West Brom - it has been suggested that Chelsea struggle against inferior opponents because they are prevented from playing their preferred counter-attacking system. This is a strong argument, of course, but doesn't stretch to Wednesday's defeat to PSG, which emphasised that the Blues' problems are many and varied.

In some ways, Mourinho's claims that Chelsea aren't ready have been proven correct in a season of slip-ups. After Wednesday's defeat, the narrative in the media is that Chelsea are suffering a sudden implosion with three defeats in their last five matches. That's true to an extent, but they are also on a run of only seven wins in the last 14 fixtures in all competitions - hardly the consistency you would expect from title contenders.

Before that, the Blues won seven matches in succession; before that they won six out of 12; and before that they won eight out of nine, drawing the other away to Tottenham. The conclusion to be drawn from this stop-start pattern is that Chelsea simply don't possess the players to maintain the sort of form that is required to challenge on multiple fronts.

The biggest issue is the lack of strikers - which Mourinho again alluded to after another disappointing performance by Fernando Torres against PSG. As Liverpool have demonstrated, great forwards can carry you a long way, but Eden Hazard is the only player to hit double figures so far for Chelsea in the league this season as they trail the Reds by 26 goals in the top flight.

Mourinho was also unhappy with his team's 'ridiculous' defending on Wednesday, adding to his claim in December that even the training dummies could score against the Blues. But defensive issues have been rare in the last few months, coinciding with Mourinho acquiring Nemanja Matic to provide more steel in midfield.

Chelsea have conceded only five goals in the Serbian's 11 Premier League matches since he re-joined the club, pointing to a balance that disappeared in his absence at the Parc des Princes. This is perhaps a problem with recruiting important players mid-season - you begin to rely on them and then, when you are forced to change for European matches (owing to Matic being cup-tied), the preferred system doesn't work as well.

That is one argument for Chelsea's defeat to PSG, along with the lapses in defence and lack of attacking incision, but it is a mix of these factors - combined with issues over recovery time (let's not list those results yet again), that have contributed to the Blues' struggles overall.


Fernando Torres
On his way in the summer, but to where? Atletico Madrid seems to be the striker's last remaining option at the top level, and that would look like a pity transfer, with El Nino only being offered one last chance because of his ties with the club. That his decline has been discussed to death following his £50m move in 2011 makes it no less astonishing.


Eden Hazard
It's a bit naughty to be interviewed wearing the shirt of a club credited with a long interest in signing you.


John Terry
An own goal against Crystal Palace and an assist for PSG in the space of five days. Those shouts for an England recall aren't so fervent anymore.


Barcelona
Already one foot out of the Champions League and, should they repeat their 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid on the last day of La Liga, there is a good chance that the title will also be snatched from their hands.

Matt Stanger - he's on Twitter.

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