UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg
Bayern Munich 3 Manchester United 1 (agg 4-2)
United go out of the UEFA Champions League not, as some had anticipated, following a severe thrashing from the reigning champions, but with a 4-2 aggregate defeat that is probably a fair reflection of how things stood between the two clubs. Like all the best teams, Bayern proved to be at their most dangerous after going a goal down, which suggests that the only way the Reds might have stood a chance would have been to leave it a lot later in the game before taking the lead. This was, however, a game in which United gave everything and which left room for optimism that our absence from this competition might well only be brief, even if by the end we looked well off the pace in terms of being potential champions again.
The first half was cagey, our opponents tentatively probing and evidently showing United some respect: perhaps, we might have felt, Bayern weren’t the fearsome giants of European football we’d expected or perhaps the Bavarian beer that had flowed following their securing of the Bundesliga had sapped their energies. Or maybe they were just sparring, keeping something in the tank for a semi-final they fully expected to play a part in.
There was some accomplished passing from Bayern, with attacks frequently spearheaded by the busy Robben, forcing some concentrated defending from United at times, though with little to trouble De Gea in these early stages. United carried a more evident early threat, with once again the pace of Welbeck troubling the Germans and Rooney looking a constant handful. Unfortunately, when the best chance of the first half fell to him, he appeared uncertain whether to shoot or lay off to Kagawa and the hesitation allowed Lahm to snuff out the danger.
Meanwhile, United’s defenders were coping admirably with the threat of the European champions. Jones stuck close to Ribery, nullifying any threat on the left while Evra rolled back the years on the other side. Smalling, preferred to Ferdinand as Vidic’s central defensive partner, added athleticism and energy while his partner looked rock solid, his own first half blemish a ludicrous yellow card after what looked just one of several perfectly good defensive headers.
Hopes were rising even before United took the lead in the second half, via an extremely sweet strike from Evra who latched onto a Valencia cross to allow the Reds a brief glimpse of a potential semi-finals place. However, celebrations had barely ended before Mandzukic equalised with a close range header all of twenty-two seconds after the restart. The goals heralded a period of more open play as Bayern pushed to regain their advantage in the tie and United were forced to dig even deeper into their defensive reserves. The former prevvailed: United weren’t able to close down Robben quickly enough and the Dutchman was able to deliver a precise cross that Muller got a decisive foot to, giving the Germans a 2-1 lead.
Coming from behind against a team like Bayern was always going to be tough and it got tougher when they extended their lead after 76 minutes, Robben’s run ending with a shot that deflected off Vidic on its way past De Gea. Now United were frantically attempting to seize possession of a ball they’d formerly been happy to allow the Germans to have during much of the tie. It proved no easier to secure and at this point United’s brave resistance drained away, giving way to a matter of whether the home side would score any more.
The game’s later stages showed, if such a thing were needed, just what a good side this Bayern Munich team are. That United had held them for three-quarters of this tie is something we can justifiably be proud of in a season that’s been low on such things, but ultimately a more realistic appraisal would have to be that, against the very best in Europe, pride and dogged resistance ultimately is not enough.