Manchester United delivered one final moment of glory before losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday. In a tie they had been expected to lose heavily, United led through a glorious Patrice Evra strike with 33 minutes to go. But Bayern roused themselves to victory in a manner that has eluded United all year. Manchester United's season has now turned to dust.
The match at the Allianz Arena in Munich was high on anxiety and low on chances. After the first leg, both sides had telegraphed their tactics ahead and produced few surprises after kickoff. Bayern held possession and attacked; United defended and tried to hit Bayern on the break.
Some felt affronted that Manchester United's attacking mythology was somehow insulted by their performance after the first leg. Again in this match, Bayern had close to 70 percent of the ball, but they didn't do a huge amount with it. United's tactics were effective, and whilst they didn't necessarily control the flow of the game, they were never out of it.
In the first half, Bayern flew out of the blocks and attacked with vigour. They won close to 10 corners, and Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery took turns to cut inside and shoot. But it was United who put the ball in the back of the net; however, Antonio Valencia was rightly ruled offside after slotting home a Wayne Rooney cross with his right foot.
Shortly afterward, the travelling United fans could be heard outsinging their German counterparts. No doubt the fans had noticed that United had seen more of Bayern's half early on than they did at old Trafford. This game would not be a formality for the European champions.
United produced a moment of glory befitting their forbears 15 minutes into the second half. Valencia jinked down the right touchline before sending a speculative cross toward the 18-yard line. Sprinting in from the back, Patrice Evra unleashed a Rivelino-esque thunderbolt with his left foot into the top corner. For a moment, United's euphoria was complete; it felt as though this club had found its soul once again with a goal wrapped in glamour on the highest stage.
Alas, United's and Evra's glory was to last less than a minute. Directly from the kickoff, Bayern surged forward and Mario Mandzukic beat Evra at the back post to head home an equaliser. Now the tie was dead level. It also most certainly come to life.
United piled upfield again and Bayern's famous midfield started to look stretched all of a sudden. On 61 minutes, Danny Welbeck presented Rooney with a chance that a man on his wages should have buried. His timid shot didn't even reach the goal line, let alone challenge Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal. Rooney's evening followed this pattern throughout; he looked like a man carrying an injury, and his reportedly bruised toe may well have been the culprit.
Five minutes later, Bayern took control. Thomas Mueller managed to elude both Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic to prod home the ball from 5 yards. With 20 minutes to go, Bayern led the tie for the first time. It felt ominous.
David Moyes threw on Javier Hernandez with the intention of chasing the game. Unfortunately, as soon as the Mexican got dirt on his boots, the tie became unwinnable. Robben, cutting inside for the umpteenth time, found his shot ricocheting off Vidic's toe and into the corner of David de Gea's goal. It was a cruel and unlucky concession, but the Dutchman's enterprise was at least rewarded.
With 10 minutes to go, again the travelling support could be heard above all else. Perhaps they sensed this was to be United's last European Cup night for some time. They, at least, were going out on a high note. Whilst United may have been outclassed on the field, their fans never will be.
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