11 years on from that famous night in Barcelona, two European heavyweights slug it out once more as they aim to make it into this season’s Champion League semi-finals.
Few of those who witnessed Manchester United strike twice within the dying stages of the 1999 final will doubt that Bayern Munich will still have a bone to pick with their English counterparts. Despite beating United on their way to victory in 2001, the horror of what happened on that balmy night in Spain will linger painfully in the memories of all at the club for many years to come. Sammy Kuffour’s tears even before the final whistle sounded spoke volumes in terms of the sheer extent of the heartbreak felt by the proud German side as Alex Ferguson’s side cruelly snatched victory from their hands.
Eleven years have passed since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s toe prodded the ball into the roof of the German’s net and the European fortunes of the two clubs since have been mixed. As mentioned, Bayern finally lifted the trophy two years after their implosion in Barcelona, but since then have never managed to make it to the last four to challenge for Europe’s biggest prize again. For United – the winners in 2008 and runners up in 2009, an appearance in this year’s semi-finals would be their fourth in a row and provide further testimony if needed, to there position as European heavyweights.
United will enter the tie as favourites. As has come to be their trademark, their form since the turn of the year has been devastating Following poor displays in the first half of the season the Red Devils have managed to overcome Chelsea at the top of the league and dished out comprehensive beatings to sides like Arsenal, Liverpool and twice AC Milan to find themselves competing strongly both domestically and in Europe.
United have been in superb form of late, winning each of their last seven games in all competitions however a record of just one win from seven against Bayern will mean that they have their work cut out to continue this impressive streak. A famous 4-0 win over AC Milan in the last sixteen will be worth nothing to all at Old Trafford should they crash out at the next hurdle.
Like United Bayern are still firmly in the hunt for dual success. In what has been a tumultuous season Louis van Gaal’s side sit in second place in the Bundesliga just two points behind leaders Schalke. The club began the season with their worst results in 43 years and found themselves a distant seventh after thirteen games before managing to rally round and go on a nineteen game unbeaten run which coincided with their march back up to the top of the table. Their form of late however has been patchy to say the least – their 2-1 defeat to Stuttgart last weekend was their second in three games and saw them slip from their perch as a result.
In European competition this season they have lived dangerously. Second in their group thanks to an inspired performance against Juventus in the last game of the first round, they may count themselves lucky to be at this stage at all given that they only just scraped by Fiorentina in the last round on account of having scored more away goals with the tie drawn at 4-4 after the two legs.
Bayern have been far from solid at home in Europe this season with their record showing two wins, a draw and a defeat with only three goals being scored in the process. If the Germans are to have any hope of progressing, one would feel that they must at least keep the tie alive until the second leg, a task that would require them ending United’s 100% away record in Europe this season.
They could be aided somewhat in that their opponents may be forced to keep one eye focused on the top of the table clash with Chelsea this Saturday as the big games keep on coming for the Red Devils. It’s rare that Alex Ferguson sends a side out with any other intention but to attack from the off-set however and only if fortunate enough to have a foothold in the tie will Ferguson think about resting some of his players ahead of the weekend’s potentially title-deciding clash.
Ferguson’s gamble against Bolton last weekend, where he rested Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney paid off as his side still ran out 4-0 winners. Both players return to the squad for Tuesday and will be very likely to play a prominent role. The United boss has a relatively full squad to choose from with only Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Owen Hargreaves as established first team players set to miss out. Both are back in training following lengthy injuries but will not feature this time round.
Injury concerns for Bayern are a little more severe as the in-form Arjen Robben, magnificent in both legs against Fiorentina faces a battle to be fit for the tie. The Dutch man will be a big loss for the Germans if he doesnt make it. Bastian Schweinsteiger will serve a one-game suspension so will also miss out but centre-half Martin Demichelis is fit to feature.
Elsewhere in Europe tonight, its an all French affair as Lyon take on Bordeaux in the first leg of their quart final match up.