Tuesday’s game against German club Bayer Leverkusen sees Manchester United launch their 18th successive campaign into the Champions League, but while the club is vastly experienced at this level, less can be said about their new manager David Moyes. The Scot has had only the briefest of encounters with the tournament when his Everton team were eliminated by Villareal, then under the stewardship of Manuel Pellegrini, in the Qualifying Round back in 2005. So whilst United have won Europe’s premier club tournament three times, the manager enters as a virtual novice at the level.
Facing a home tie against Leverkusen is probably the sort of start that would suit United. Although a decent outfit, the Bundesliga club is not in the same bracket as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. They should present a test for the Premier League Champions, but not one that should be beyond them.
That said, United’s failure to find the net from open play in over three league games must be a growing concern for Moyes, and also slightly worrying is the fact that United have won only three of their last nine matches at Old Trafford. Looked at from the perspective of those two facts, the game takes on a challenging hue, although United have only ever lost twice at home to German opposition.
In terms of team selection, Moyes will be shorn of the opportunity to deploy the versatile Phil Jones whose ankle problem is deemed unlikely to heal in time for the encounter, and may persist with Wayne Rooney, protective headband and all, deployed behind Robin van Persie. It would not however be beyond possibilities for the Scot to offer Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa the opportunity to demonstrate his worth for a first team place at some time during the evening. Also expect Marouane Fellaini to be in line for a start after his substitute entrance at the weekend.
In the opposite dugout, former Anfield stalwart Sami Hyypia, is also a new entrant to the competition as a coach, although he did secure a winner’s medal with Liverpool in 2005. The German club have experienced a bit of a revolving door of a transfer window with ten new players arriving and a Baker’s Dozen departing. Despite that, Hyypia has the club nicely tucked into third place in the Bundesliga below Bayern and Dortmund. They have two proven goal scorers in Sam and Kiessling, who have both netted four times this season already, The Germans will therefore be confident of their ability to score, and should United’s inability to score other than from set pieces continue, the game could get sticky for the home team.
All that said though, with the wealth of experience at this level running throughout the club, I expect United to come through fairly comfortably, probably by a two-goal margin, but if Leverkusen score first, all bets could be off.
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