It’s all looking pretty rosey for Manchester United on top of group A of the Champions League right now. Qualification is within reach and you’re not Spurs – life is good.
But is really that simple? Tonight’s game in Leverkusen is a little more important than the general air of complacency surrounding it would suggest.
While once United would have maneuvered themselves into a position of strength in the group that victory wasn’t essential, a draw would have been nice and even a loss was manageable, defeat tonight all of a sudden puts progress in jeopardy.
If results go against them, United could drop to third and face a winner takes all showdown with Shaktar Donetsk at Old Trafford two weeks time. On the other, less sensationalist, hand, the right combination of results could guarantee their place milking the udders of the Champions League cash cow all the way into 2014. The line between comfort and panic is David De Gea thin.
It’ll be a tough game – partially because Leverkusen are good and partially because United haven’t got a great record in Germany. Don’t tell the footballing hipsters, but Sami Hyppia’s side are actually above Dortmund in the Bundesliga, claiming the title of ‘closest team to grabbing onto Bayern’s coat-tails’. History isn’t overly positive for United either as this image suggests.
So what does it all tell us? Well, not that Germany is planning to launch missile attacks on its European neighbours as those arrows may have once suggested, but rather United have mixed record in the land of efficiency and fiscal prudence. Over all his years at the helm, Sir Alex Ferguson complied a fairly modest record in the country, even if he did manage the near-miraculous feat of getting a hat-trick out of Michael Owen when they won in Wolfsburg in 2009. The record shows:
- Three wins: v Leverkusen, Schalke and Wolfsburg
- Three draws: v Leverkusen and Bayern x2
- Four defeats: v Dortmund, Stuttgart and Bayern x2
A large part of that is down to a fairly dismal record against Bayern, who they’ve yet to beat in Germany in four attempts. Yes, they got the one that counted in the dying seconds of the 1999 Champions League Final, but in terms of performance, that was as deserved as Barack Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize for engaging in just the two wars.
But it’s also not entirely down to Bayern and United have previously slipped to defeats at the hands of the Bundesliga’s less famous names. Their record against Leverkusen is good however. They have won one and drawn one against the oddly nicknamed Tablet-twisters and their win at Old Trafford demonstrated they are more than capable of scoring against the Germans. It also showed they’re more than capable of conceding against them too.
That’s the issue with the Moyes era thus far. Whatever progress gets made soon gets undermined with moments in which they’re far less convincing. Tonight’s game may well be a regulation win for United and possibly qualification, but there’s enough doubts to think it won’t be. With doubts about Moyes, he needs wins like this to champion his cause.