Let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room, just so we’re clear.
Even if Sir Alex Ferguson himself appears on the sidelines to take over coaching duties for the day, this edition of the Manchester United Football Club does not have what it takes to beat this Bayern squad if the defending champs are on their game.
The other take on it, as viewed over at ESPN in what might be among the strangest pieces ever written about a match-up, is that, “Hey, anything can happen!”
And that is a testament to how huge a shadow Man U has cast over the game. As the legendary club struggles to regain their identity of dominance lost with the retirement of their legendary sideline boss.
America’s biggest sports network is in denial and clinging onto the idea that sometimes the inexplicable happens in sports.
Make no mistake. Based solely on the performance of both clubs recently, only the inexplicable would apply to anything other than a decisive Bayern victory to take back to Munich with them for the second leg.
Bayern’s players and coach are well aware of the struggles of the Red Devils this season under new coach David Moyes, but the tones coming from the champions are strictly reverential.
“I think immediately of Sir Alex Ferguson, of the stadium, and of the 1999 Final” was what Bastian Schweinsteiger listed when asked of his greatest memories of Manchester United.
We know Ferguson is likely to attend the match, which will be played at “the stadium,” better known to every football fan in the world as “Old Trafford.”
But the 1999 final?
Ah, the inexplicable.
Man U and Bayern faced one another at Camp Nou in Barcelona in that year’s Champions League final. Mario Basler gave the Germans the lead in the sixth minute, which turned out to be the only goal scored in regulation. Teddy Sheringham equalized in the first minute of injury time, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the game-winner two minute later to flip the match on its head and giving the title, inexplicably, to a side that had trailed the entire night.
“One always has respect for Manchester,” is what Schweinsteiger seemed to really think of his club’s next opponent.
Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer didn’t even look back to the 1999 final for his reminder, finding a lesson much closer in time.
“We know exactly how well Manchester can play,” said Neuer of the team looking to attack his goal Tuesday. “Their style of play is not currently good, but how they fought back with a 3:0 in the second leg of their round of 16 match against Olympiakos Piraus shows what sort of strength they have in them.”
Bayern is not, of course, without their own strengths. Coach Pep Guardiola has even more talent from which to select his squad than did Jupp Heynckes when he led Bayern to their historic treble last season. Thanks to having secured the domestic championship last week, Pep was able to rest several key players Saturday, meaning that not only will he have the edge in talent, but also in how well-rested some of that talent is.
Manchester United currently find themselves so deep in their own table they face missing out on Europe entirely next season. Hence, many of the players who will be tasked to face Bayern Tuesday will have played 90 minutes Saturday.
Each side does have a significant injury. Robin van Persie is out for the Red Devils, while Thiago Alcantara was hurt in Saturday’s match with TSG Hoffenheim and will be unavailable for the next few months.
So, yes ESPN, maybe there is a Santa Claus somewhere in the mix that could offer a beacon of hope to the English side in this contest.
But I’d expect the champions to do what champions do to hindered competition.
It will look very . . . explicable.