Posted by Nelson Dafe | 22 March 2014 | 3,186 times
Manchester United were yesterday handed the tough task of taking on Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of this year’s European Champions League. It’s a fixture that will not inspire much hope from the United supporters at the moment. But the team can take some comfort from how they dispatched Olympiacos in the second round of the competition.
It was an efficient – if not the Fergie-scintilating display of yore – that Manchester United put up on Wednesday to see off the Olympiacos challenge. After giving themselves a mountain to climb by succumbing to an away 0-2 first leg deficit, United responded brilliantly with a Robin Van Persie hat trick to qualify for the last eight of the competition.
Now, it’s difficult to draw the conclusion that United’s win in this game signals a proper turning point for them – they’ve had a number of false dawns many times this season. When one looks at the position Man U find themselves now, many have rightly dismissed their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season through the premier league route. But there’s a lifeline left, albeit a very difficult one against with the quater final fixture against Bayern, and one that has got fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City a little uneasy now. If United win the Champions League, one of the teams would have to face the massive disappointment of missing out in European football showpiece competition.
It was the cruel fate that befell Totenham Hotspurs a few seasons ago. After battling hard to see off Chelsea and Newcastle United to place fourth in the EPL, they were dealt a cruel blow as the ultra-defensive display of Roberto Di Matteo-managed Chelsea defied the odds in somewhat spectacular fashion to claim the Champions League.
Manchester United’s flaggling campaign in the English Premiership has led to them being widely discounted as Champions League likely winners this season. But, as we all know, strange things do happen with a striking regularity in football. Just like Chelsea in 2012, United may just discover a defensive mojo, and some healthy dose of luck that would see them have a good five-match run to the title.
Chelsea had to shed the expansive and tip-tap football that their billionaire owner felt his money was worth, when Di Matteo took over, and what they offered in the Champions League’s latter stages against Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich was a back-to-the-wall display, defending in massive blocks and making themselves difficult to break down.
United may also have to shed the fluid passing game, and the attempts to dominate possession against opponents that they have been known for in order to get through the Munich mountain.
Can we really count a team with the solid history and tradition that United has out? Yes, at the moment, they look a very average side, judging from the stuttering form they have had since transitioning from the management of the mercurial Alex Ferguson to David Moyes. But with defeat after defeat in crucial games in the Premiership, there’s a sense in thinking that they have reached such a nadir and the only way to go now is up. And with new found unity and a strong defensive shape, they can string a run now in the Champions League, which presents them with the only realistic chance of redemption this season.
Of course, the have been a number of false dawns for Moyes’ United. When they beat Arsenal last November, it was supposed to be the start of an upward spiral. But it wasn’t to be. The win over Liverpool in the carling cup also offered some hope for Man U that a genuine surge was about to start. Yet again it was a wrong assumption. Qualifying from their Champions League group, while placing top, was yet another false dawn.
Even with all these, you cannot really dismiss the possibilities a team with Rooney, Van Persie, vastly experienced Giggs and Ferdinand are capable of. There are no pre-set time table for a team to hit peak form. For United, the time may just be now, and come May they could be lifting the Champions League trophy. We have seen stranger things happen.
For the current top sides, they surely would be looking with concern as United continue an improbable journey to being Europe’s best club.
•Photo shows Manchester United players celebrating the Champions League quarter-final qualification.
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