By Peter Herrnreiter
The next knockout round in the 2009-201 UEFA Champions League kicks off with a number of surprise matchups, including an all French tie, a rematch of the 2006 and of the 1999 final. Premier League leaders Manchester United will face a tough test against their 1999 finals counterparts FC Bayern Munich. United, who defeated the German side that year, are looking to add to their trophy case with a fourth Champions League trophy, however the strong Bavarian side, though likely wakened through injury, will be their toughest test thus far.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Though having relinquished their lead in the Bundesliga over the weekend with a 2-1 surprise home loss to Stuttgart, Louis Van Gal’s side have shown a remarkable aptitude for an attritional type of play. At the mid week, they outlasted current leaders Schalke 04 in the German cup through 120 minutes, earning a 1-0 win to reach the final.
They will be however hard-pressed to outlast a speedy, skillful and veteran Manchester side who eased past lowly Bolton on Saturday. While Wayne Rooney did not make an appearance, it was Dimitar Berbatov who slotted home two well placed goals to help silence his often vocal critics this season.
The key for United will be their ability to keep both Rooney and Berbatov in form. Sir Alex Ferguson will want to either try three strikers up top or a lone striker with two players wide. The lack of consistency and work ethic from with Bulgarian Berbatov has been a massive cause for concern for the Reds as his lack of form after having moved from Tottenham is indeed worrying.
If Sir Alex decides to sit Berbatov, the obvious choice will be Wayne Rooney at top with Nani on the wing and possibly Ryan Giggs. The young Portuguese midfielder also played brilliantly over the weekend, however his quickness and precision passing will need an extra boost to help cut through the Bavarian midsection.
For Munich he keys to the next round are simple- stay consistent. So far this season, the additional of Arjen Robben, while a massive help, has caused a great deal of complexity to the German’s starting XI. Against Stuttgart, Dutch coach Van gal made a rather interesting change at half time, fielding both Robben and Frank Ribery after starting them on the bench with an eye to keep the rested for the Manchester tie.
The shakeup at midfield cause the Bavarians to concede two 2nd half goals and to add insult, it now seems possibly that Robben might miss the Tuesday clash through injury.
If Bayern can keep a solid midfield with a single strategical objective, they will easily be able to hold back Rooney and the United strike force. However any deviation from a strong and unwielding starting XI will prove costly in the next round.
Peter Herrnreiter, email@example.com