David Moyes gave us all a hearty laugh last Friday when asked about the prospect of his troubled Manchester United team overcoming the daunting task of Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals this week.
"I've got a few things that I've seen that I would try to work on and capitalise on," muttered the Scot, as reported on the day by Jamie Jackson and Dominic Fifield at The Guardian, before adding; "They are the holders. But I don't think the holders have ever won it twice. Hopefully we can try and do something about that."
The clash between these two European giants has been billed as many things over the past week—pay-back for 1999, the duel between two new coaches, etc.—yet the general consensus has always sided with the concept that Bayern go into this game as clear favourites for a semi-final spot.
The state of the Old Trafford side in their first season under Moyes has been well documented and critically broken down a thousand times. When we partner such a fact with how well the newly crowned Bundesliga champions have done under their own new coach—the former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola—the conclusion seems rather foregone to even to the most optimistic of Man United fans.
To borrow a well-used tale for what some would have thought impossible just a few years ago, Man United go into this European tie as the optimistic David against this most impressive German Goliath.
Yet what if Moyes does have a plan to stop Bayern—a ploy to unravel this European heavyweight? How would one go about beating Guardiola's superstars in a two-legged affair?
The most notable and plausible reference to a chink in the Bavarian armour will undoubtedly have been with regard to Bayern's sloppy defending of late and just how often they have conceded silly goals against teams in Europe and Germany since the turn of the year.
The Man United manager will have undoubtedly watched the champions' weekend game against Hoffenheim on Saturday—when the lowly mid-table side from a small suburban town in Germany's south-west came to the Allianz Arena and grabbed an unprecedented 3-3 draw—and smiled in delight every time Bayern conceded a goal.
Of course, Guardiola had rested all but a few of his regular first-team starters, and the team as a whole clearly looked far too content with their recent title win. Yet when we look at both teams, this optimistic approach does make some sense; Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa et al. will have to be utilised as Man United look to attack as their best form of defence.
There is, after all, some reason behind what many would perceive as total madness—i.e attacking Bayern throughout a match—when we look at their form in games that actually mattered of late.
In the Bavarian side's five games prior to winning the title in Berlin last week, they conceded four goals to teams within the Bundesliga. Not so much to write home about, but a lot more than just the one goal which they conceded in the first six league games of this year.
When we up the stakes ever so slightly and then turn our attention to Bayern's record in the Champions League this season, we also notice that they've actually conceded five goals in just eight games—with most coming against good teams that they should have been less complacent against.
This then moves us on to the next point, which Moyes may take solace in ahead of this tricky tie: Bayern don't like playing English teams.
All but one of the goals Guardiola's side have conceded in top European competition throughout this current campaign have come against English opponents Manchester City and Arsenal, two sides that Moyes' own team have struggled against in the Premier League recently but a glimmer of hope for the former English champions.
Arsenal's ambitious plan of overloading Bayern at the Emirates Stadium was noble in the sense that it looked as though it could have actually worked, just before Mesut Ozil missed a penalty and Wojciech Szczesny saw red. If Man United can stun Guardiola's team like Arsenal did that night, then we may again see the German champions flounder in the spotlight.
Of course, it isn't just these two sides that have bravely tackled Bayern for good old St George's Cross—Chelsea too came up against the German side prior to the current season in last summer's UEFA Super Cup. Once again, Philipp Lahm and co. struggled that night before eventually overcoming Jose Mourinho's team.
Such claims obviously seem quite arbitrary in the clear light of day, yet we mustn't forget that it was only once Jupp Heynckes arrived at the Munich club in 2011 that Lahm and his compatriots at Germany's largest club finally began winning when it mattered.
Arsenal almost tripped Heynckes' own side up last season, too, yet it was their ability to shift out of first gear and comprehensively overcome the best teams around the continent in Juventus, Barcelona and then Borussia Dortmund that showed us all the real difference between normal, brilliant Bayern and outstanding, Euro-conquering Bayern.
Although Guardiola's team have offered little to suggest otherwise, it's this mental barrier that will need to be overcome and what we will be watching with intense curiosity this week. Bayern may be the retaining German champions in record-breaking time, but they haven't reclaimed Europe's greatest trophy yet.
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