The Champions League is finally back and as always it’s bringing some eye-watering fixtures with it. Possibly the biggest of which will be taking place this Wednesday evening, as Bayern Munich host Manchester United for the first time since April 2014- as they look to avenge the English side’s miraculous treble-sealing win in the 1999 final.
So with that being said, we’re going to take a look at some of the key features of what will undoubtedly be the most significant match-up in group A, with of Galatasaray and Copenhagen the other two members.
We’ll be focusing on each side’s respective form, key players and some of the tactical patterns and battles you can expect to see unfold at the Allianz Arena.
United come into the fixture in the midst of what has been a tumultuous start to the new campaign, both on and off-the-pitch. With the future of the club’s ownership remaining uncertain and off-field issues surrounding both Antony and Jadon Sancho leaving both wingers unavailable, The Red Devils’ problems have been compounded by multiple injuries in their squad just five games in- with the likes of last season’s pivotal members Luke Shaw and Raphaël Varane, as well as new signings Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat all having been absent this weekend- which saw a depleted side lose 3-1 and be outclassed at home to Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton.
As for Bayern, although they remain unbeaten, Bayer Leverkusen’s last minute equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw in Munich on Friday night would have only added to Thomas Tuchel’s lack of complete confidence in his squad.
Following the collapsed move for Fulham’s João Palhinha at the final hour on Deadline day, The former Chelsea manager is still left without the defensive midfielder he continuously expressed his desire forever the summer. Joshua Kimmich is not viewed as a fitting profile to play in the traditional ‘number six’ role, which tends to be focused more on disrupting opposition attacks and breaking up play, rather, he excels playing in the ‘number eight’ position, where he can progress play and create from deep.
Consequently, although Kimmich is still more than useful when utilized as a defensive midfielder alongside the more offensive Leon Goretzka, this could be an area which Erik Ten Hag’s side- and Bruno Fernandes in particular- look to exploit.
- Key Players
Following on the previous point, Fernandes will undoubtedly be a key player for his side on Wednesday, and the attacking midfielder’s pinpoint lofted passes and through balls will be vital in helping Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Højlund get in behind Bayern’s high defensive line. Rashford in particular will pose a significant threat, with the Englishman’s curved out-to-in runs from the left wing being a significant threat to the opposition’s weakness on the right-side of defence- as was evident against Leverkusen, where midfielder Konrad Laimer started as a make-shift right-back ahead of Noussair Mazraoui, who is still yet to certify his place as a starter at the German giants, having regularly struggled with injuries last season.
At the other end of the field for United, André Onana will be influential in more ways than one. The Cameroonian goalkeeper will be able to maintain control, relieve pressure, and potentially spring counter attacks with his excellent composure and passing accuracy when pressed, whilst his shot-stopping ability will face a tough test in preventing the Bavarian’s new star striker Harry Kane from adding to his four goals this already this season.
The England captain has already struck up a lethal partnership with former Manchester City winger Leroy Sané, who has rediscovered his form at the start of this campaign- scoring five goals goals in six games for both club and country, whilst displaying his fantastic dribbling, intelligence, and link-up play in the final third.
Furthermore, the exceptionally talented Jamal Musiala will also be one to watch, as he aims to assert himself on the European stage as a player who could be amongst the best in the world in years to come.
Expect to see these key players’ strengths utilized in both sides respective tactical plans, with United, as previously mentioned, looking to remain compact defensively and move the ball forwards at speed, something which they have done throughout the season so far- completing the second most direct attacks in the Premier League, as per Opta.
The Dutch manager will likely employ this approach with a similar starting line-up to that used at Brighton, however it may be in a slightly different shape to the narrow 4-4-2 diamond that often became exposed in wide areas at The Amex stadium. Either way, it will be Rashford and Højlund carrying the main attacking threat; staying high up the field out-of-possession to provide a quick outlet when the ball is won back.
As for the Bundesliga champions, the composure, physicality, and speed of centre-backs Kim Min-Jae and either one of Dayot Upamecano or Matthijs De Ligt will prove a reliable pairing to mitigate against counter-attacks. Meanwhile in attack, full-back Alphonso Davies will be constantly bombing forward to create overloads down the left-wing, whilst each of Bayern’s attackers- and occasionally midfielders and full-backs- will be flooding the space in between United’s midfield and defensive line, looking to receive sharp incisive passes into their feet, and link up with one another in and around the box- thus overwhelming the defence in both quantity and quality.
In conclusion, regardless of how the match pans out, it is bound to be an intriguing battle, with Bayern fighting to get off to a winning start in a year that sees them as one of the favourites for the Champions League title, whilst United will be aiming to achieve their first ever victory at the Allianz Arena.
Travis Levison | Get Football