Gutsy Manchester United keep European dream alive
Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich
It was not the massacre of Old Trafford that the club might have feared, but then again it is hardly in keeping with the history of Manchester United to celebrate a home draw in the Champions League quarter-finals -- whatever the calibre of the opposition.
In the new era of lowered expectations at United, at least they can say they are still alive in this competition.
Yes, this was Bayern Munich, who have conquered Europe once and are trying to repeat history with even greater flair under Pep Guardiola. And for long periods of the first half in particular, Bayern were reluctant to share the ball with David Moyes' players, so Nemanja Vidic's opening goal was celebrated all the more intensely.
There was to be no miraculous victory to carry into the Allianz Arena next Wednesday, not even one stolen from behind a parked bus. It was a dignified draw with the added bonus that Bayern's scorer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, was sent off for a dubious second yellow card in injury-time at the end which rules him out the second leg.
From Moyes' point of view it was not a humiliation and the tie is by no means dead for United, as it was for Arsenal after their 2-0 first-leg defeat at the Emirates in the previous round.
Catastrophe averted or, depending on how you look at it, postponed. Of course, ties are not won or lost on statistics but those statistics were eye-watering. Bayern had 70 per cent of the game with 701 completed passes to United's 174.
The first half finished with a remarkable chance for Danny Welbeck -- who had a goal disallowed earlier for a high foot -- which he missed.
Before then United had been under the cosh for the whole of the first half, and not just any cosh but an unrelenting cycle of possession and attack. Bayern win the ball, they pass the ball and then they win it back.
So much so that when Welbeck broke free on the Bayern goal with 40 minutes of the match played, it was the first time that evening that the Germans had looked vulnerable. Until then, Welbeck and Wayne Rooney had been isolated but for once the latter had been able to find space and pick a pass.
It was a good through-ball, although it required a slip from Jérôme Boateng, initially on the correct side of Welbeck, to let the Englishman in on goal. Welbeck slowed as Manuel Neuer came out to close him down and, instead of picking one side of that big German obstacle, Welbeck opted for the most difficult option, a chip over the top. Neuer reached out one of his big hands and clawed the ball down, the speed of his reactions making it look easy.
There was a commendably solid performance from Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic with the latter doing well to get a foot to David Alaba's cross on 37 minutes with Thomas Müller lurking nearby. Alex Büttner and Phil Jones, the two full-backs, had an unenviable job and stuck to it even when the pressure seemed to become intolerable.
A change was required, and at half-time Moyes made it by withdrawing Giggs, who had been excellent against Olympiakos in the home leg of the previous round but found his opportunities to influence the game drastically reduced against Bayern. He was passed around once too often.
Kagawa came on with a record of having been on the winning side against Bayern during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Moyes tinkered with the formation too, switching to what looked more like a 4-4-1-1 system with Kagawa behind Welbeck and Rooney moved to the left side. Later, after Bayern's equaliser, Rooney took up the central position and dispatched Welbeck out wide.
The goal on 58 minutes came from Rooney's corner and followed a decent period of United play. For once, the Bayern machine failed to track Vidic at all as he came into a central position in the area.
Even so, he steered the header beautifully, connecting with the ball somewhere around his right ear and glancing it beyond Neuer and into the far corner.
Hope abounded as the home crowd felt their team assert themselves. Unfortunately for them it took the Germans just eight minutes to equalise. Robben sent Rafinha free down the right, the substitute Mario Mandzukic headed the ball down -- another duel lost by Fellaini -- and Schweinsteiger had a relatively simple finish which he thumped in.
Moyes lost Büttner to injury not long after, which forced him into an awkward re-jigging. With no left-back on the bench he had to move Jones there, bring Valencia back to right-back and insert Ashley Young on the right wing.
Later Valencia, already booked, lunged for a ball with Boateng and was very lucky that his wild slide did not earn him a second yellow card.
Schweinsteiger was less fortunate with a strong but clean challenge on Rooney. The German was unimpressed by his opponent's reaction and told him so. One would expect Rooney to defend himself vigorously against such an allegation, but he looked a little embarrassed.
It was one extra advantage for a second leg in which United will need all the help they can get.