How Man Utd can conquer Bayern & save UCL campaign
Man Utd’s Mission Impossible? Some things Erik ten Hag must do to beat Bayern Munich and avoid Champions League elimination
Manchester United may have never felt lower in the last 30 years than they did following their heartbreaking home defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday, but they don’t have time to mope. Their Champions League status is at stake, and they must defeat Bayern Munich on Tuesday to avoid being kicked out of Europe entirely.
Victory over the German champions, who have already qualified for the last 16 as Group A winners, would guarantee United a place in the Europa League play-off round, but only if Copenhagen and Galatasaray draw their encounter in the Danish capital.
All United can do is fulfill their end of the agreement, which will entail vastly improving on their dreadful performance against Andoni Iraola’s side, who sliced through them with a flawlessly executed game plan of targeted pressing. Meanwhile, Bayern has not lost a Champions League group match in almost six years.
However, if Erik ten Hag makes a few changes and can rally the players to fight for their club, United have a chance to defeat Thomas Tuchel’s side. Here’s what the Dutchman must do to succeed…
Drop Martial completely
The fact that Marcus Rashford was benched for the second game in a row was hardly the biggest surprise when Ten Hag named his starting lineup against Bournemouth. He had reinstated Anthony Martial to his starting lineup.
Martial was as poor as, if not worse than, Rashford in the dreadful defeat at Newcastle a week before, and yet he was chosen ahead of Rasmus Hojlund, presumably to ensure the Danish striker was as sharp as possible against Bayern.
The strategy flopped, as Martial was as bad as ever, unable to break down Bournemouth’s veteran and physical defense, incapable of holding the ball up, and as dull as a cricket bat. Martial was not put out of his misery at halftime, and when he was eventually taken out for Hojlund in the 56th minute, the Old Trafford crowd sarcastically hailed Ten Hag and celebrated the switch.
Starting Hojlund over Martial against Bayern is a no-brainer, but given how low the French forward’s confidence is right now and how his every appearance seems to enrage fans, it may be wiser to keep him out entirely.
Make the most of Hojlund
Despite United’s disastrous European campaign, Hojlund is enjoying his first Champions League season. The Dane, along with Erling Haaland and Alvaro Morata, is the competition’s joint-top scorer, and that classic music just seems to excite him, unlike in the Premier League, where he has failed to score a single goal.
However, United is still not making the most of him or playing to his abilities. Diogo Dalot ran down the right after a wonderful interchange with Antony, but despite having a very tight angle, he insisted on going for goal, even though Hojlund was yelling for a cut-back by the six-yard box.
It was far from an uncommon incident, and Hojlund berating his teammates for failing to recognize him has become a common sight. He continues to make deft moves between the lines, but he isn’t getting the passes he needs to capitalize on them.
Christian Eriksen’s injury hasn’t helped matters because he’s one of the few United players with exceptional passing vision, and Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes haven’t been able to locate him frequently enough. It also appears like Hojlund is suffering as a result of McTominay’s newfound prominence as an advanced midfielder and United’s desire to use him instead of their £72 million ($90 million) player. That must change.
Exploit Bayern’s right-hand side
Bayern Munich travels to Old Trafford with a point to prove after a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday. Unlike United’s recent flop, which followed a trend of steadily diminishing performances, Bayern’s thrashing came as a surprise, ending their unblemished start to the Bundesliga season.
Ten Hag may still learn from it, such as trying to attack the Bavarians’ poor right side, from which Eintracht scored three of their five goals.
Dayot Upamecano, a France international who has long appeared to be a weak link for club and country, was caught out of position and swatted out of the way by Hugo Larsson for the third goal. Right-back Noussair Mazraoui, a former Ajax charge of Ten Hag’s, was all over the place in the first half and was replaced by left-back Alphonso Davies at halftime.
His replacement, Konrad Laimer, did not fare much better, as Eintracht exploited Bayern’s weakness down the right flank again just five minutes into the second half, when Dina Ebimbe scored after Upamecano was dispossessed in the first.
Alejandro Garnacho has two goals and an assist in his previous five games and can try to exploit this weakness, while Luke Shaw can back him up if he starts at left-back rather than centrally.
Restore Shaw to left-back
Ten Hag employed Shaw as a centre-back in the second half against Chelsea and got the most out of replacement Sergio Reguilon at left-back, but the Bournemouth game demonstrated the limitations of this strategy.
Shaw’s lack of height cost United dearly, while Reguilon’s defensive flaws were exposed by the Cherries, who did the majority of their damage down the Red Devils’ left flank. Bayern has the ability to cause significantly more damage on the flanks, thus United must utilize their best players in their natural positions, which means reverting Shaw to left-back.
It’s also a game designed for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has been benched in the last two games in favor of Dalot but is a far more reliable defender than his Portuguese counterpart.
To contain Bayern’s assortment of excellent strikers, especially Harry Kane, who has scored a jaw-dropping 22 goals in 18 games since joining from Tottenham, United will need to be at their best defensively.