I think that both Manchester United and Chelsea will bite the dust in the Champions League next week, following this week’s first-leg results in their respective quarter-finals.
United drew 1-1 at home with Bayern Munich on Tuesday, and I thought they did pretty well considering the circumstances. They restricted Bayern Munich to very few chances and, even though they did not have much of the ball over the course of the 90 minutes, they probably warranted the draw for their efforts.
That result gives them a chance; it gives them hope heading into the return leg at the Allianz Arena. But I still think they are up against it.
I read in some quarters the suggestion that David Moyes had somehow tactically outthought Pep Guardiola, but I think that might be overstating things. Moyes did well but it is not rocket science—United are not in Munich’s league at the moment, and the only way for them to try and get a result is to put 10 men behind the ball and defend as deep as possible.
That’s what they did, and they did it well.
It is very hard to break teams down when you have 11 men in the last 25 or 30 yards of the pitch, which United had for large periods of the game. Bayern tried to move the ball and find spaces to work in, but United stuck to the task admirably and got a reasonable result.
United played the hand they were dealt, to an extent, and they will have to do something similar next week.
They still have to score now at the Allianz if they want to go through, but at least they have given themselves a chance.
They’ve got to approach the game in a similar fashion, with the same deep line again for 60 or 70 minutes. Then if it’s still 0-0 or if they are only 1-0 down with 20 minutes or left, then they’ve still got a chance and they can cut loose, take risks and try and steal the tie at the death.
Even though Bayern Munich will be without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng, I can’t see United getting the draw (or win). Never say never, but it is a very big ask.
For their part Bayern will be relatively content, because they have not had it their own way against English sides in recent times.
They had a bit of a wake-up call against Manchester City in the group stages and Arsenal have caused them problems in meetings over the last two seasons, so they have been warned. In the last eight there are no foregone conclusions; there are no bad teams at this stage of the competition.
They have to be on their game to win the tie in the second leg, but I am sure Guardiola will ensure they are.
Wednesday then saw Chelsea suffer a late 3-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. The result should not been a huge surprise, because Chelsea have not been playing well in recent weeks.
For a while now they have been grinding out results—by defending well and not conceding many goals—but if you want to win competitions, at some stage you need to start scoring relatively freely to put the pressure on opponents, not yourself.
To do that you need to threaten the goal a lot, and I think Chelsea’s problem is that they don’t really threaten the opposition enough. At the moment it is arguably only Eden Hazard who is a consistent threat.
That makes it slightly easier for opponents, because they can take a few more chances going forward and still be confident Chelsea won’t hurt them on the counter.
They do not occupy opposition defences enough and that has become their biggest problem, because it invites pressure. Eventually on Tuesday they buckled, although Javier Pastore’s late strike was obviously a poor goal to concede.
To let him go inside and beat Petr Cech at his near post was terrible defending and completely changed the dynamic of the tie.
It was a huge, huge goal. I should know—I scored one in almost identical circumstances against Bayer Leverkusen on Liverpool’s run to Champions League glory in 2005.
In our case it was a big goal, because we absolutely dominated Leverkusen and probably should have been three or four up long before the final whistle at Anfield. But then Jerzy Dudek made a mistake in the last few minutes, and all of sudden at 2-1 rather than 3-0, you are no longer cruising.
Fortunately we got another in the last minute, and that makes everything a lot easier. We went to Leverkusen and were 2-0 up after 20 minutes, and the tie was as good as over. But it would have been a lot hairier had it been 2-1 or not 3-1. We might not have started so confidently and aggressively with a smaller cushion, and Leverkusen might have been able to profit from that.
Now PSG are in a similar situation. They now know they can concede an early goal and will still be ahead in the tie and on course to go through. With their firepower, even if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is injured, they will always fancy themselves to score.
They can still lose the tie 2-1 and progress.
After Wednesday’s game, Jose Mourinho once again talked about the need for “real strikers” after selecting Andre Schurrle as a false nine for the third time this season.
I thought it was a staggering outburst, and I’m not sure anybody benefits from his comments. I said on Twitter that it was as damning a verdict from a manager about his players that I’ve ever heard.
They’ve still got a lot to play for this season—they can still reach the last four in Europe, they can still win the league—yet these are players you need confident and on form if you want to do well.
Don’t forget that one of those three strikers he complained about was someone he actually brought in, Samuel Eto’o, and he also let Romelu Lukaku go out on loan. Lukaku has looked far better at Everton than Fernando Torres or Demba Ba have done this season at Stamford Bridge.
Maybe Mourinho wants to ensure he is given the funds to buy a new striker in the summer, but his comments also devalue the players he has currently got. I really don’t know where the benefit of that is.
We’ll have to see what happens in the next few games—you never know, he might get a reaction from them.
Unfortunately, when the going gets tough I’m not sure how much these players’ hearts will now be in the cause.