By Rex Gowar
Manchester United, comprehensively outplayed by local rivals Liverpool and Manchester City at Old Trafford recently, face an even tougher challenge when holders Bayern Munich come calling in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Languishing seventh in the Premier League after a dismal first season under manager David Moyes, United are huge underdogs to get through the two-legged quarter-final against the Bundesliga champions.
Moyes will take little comfort from results at the weekend when Bayern’s 19-match league winning streak ended in a 3-3 home draw with Hoffenheim after surrendering a 3-1 lead while United thrashed Aston Villa 4-1 in the Premier League.
United are a far cry from the team who commanded unreserved respect around Europe during Alex Ferguson’s heyday but their home form in the Champions League this season has been good, in marked contrast to their woeful Premier League record at Old Trafford.
The English champions have won their first four home matches in the competition, something they last did in the 2007-08 campaign when they made it six out of six and went on to lift the trophy for the third time in Moscow.
But Bayern, managed by Pep Guardiola who outfoxed United in the 2009 and 2011 finals as Barcelona coach, have won their last seven Champions League away games. They also beat United on the away goals rule when the teams met at the same stage in 2010.
“We cannot allow Manchester United’s current position in the Premier League to affect our mindset for this game,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm told uefa.com.
“We will travel to Manchester in order to play attacking football and score goals. I don’t think it matters if you play the away leg first. Last year we played at home first a lot of the time and still managed to win the trophy.
“The most important thing for us will be to score goals in the away leg,” added Lahm, whose side overcame Arsenal on the basis of their away results in the last-16 this season and last.
Moyes can take heart from his team’s recovery in their last-16 tie against Olympiakos Piraeus when they won 3-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick after losing the away leg 2-0.
Van Persie will miss both games against Bayern through injury but Wayne Rooney is enjoying a prolific run, the England striker’s two goals against Villa taking his tally to five this month and 15 in the league this season.
Speaking at his press conference yesterday, Moyes said United have belief. “We go into the game knowing on our day we’re as good a side as any,” said the Scot. “We must show it, we have belief.
“All the players want to play, I can tell by their training and attitude. They all want to play in the big games and this is a big game.”
Ryan Giggs, who could make his final Champions League appearance at Old Trafford, added: “We don’t see us as underdogs. We’re United playing at home in the Champions League. We’re looking forward to it.”
The tie brings together two teams who have lifted the European Cup eight times between them and they met in the 1999 final in Barcelona when United snatched an extraordinary 2-1 victory from the jaws of defeat with two stoppage-time goals.
The defeat rankled with Bayern for years but they have beaten United every time they have met since and it would be a huge surprise if the German team fail to make the semi-finals.