Champions League Results: Manchester United Impressive Against Mighty Bayern Munich; Barcelona Held by Atletico Madrid
By Deepak Vikraman | April 2, 2014 7:47 AM EST
If only Manchester United would play like this in the English Premier League.
Against the best club side in the world, David Moyes' United stood toe-to-toe and came out with a fighting draw at Old Trafford in their quarterfinal first leg against reigning champs Bayern Munich.
The Champions league quarterfinal was expected to be a walk in the park for Bayern, unstoppable this season, but despite dominating proceedings, in terms of possession, they ran into a determined United rearguard, who refused to let the Bayern juggernaut pass through, try as they might.
Nemanja Vidic, in his final season in a United shirt, put in a captain's performance at the back, while also scoring his team's goal early in the second half. Bastian Schweinsteiger, though, equalised for Bayern Munich, soon after, before the midfielder saw that dreaded red card flash before his eyes in the final moments as Bayern ended with ten men, and United with an outstanding 1-1 draw.
In the second game of the night, the scores ended 1-1 as well, as Barcelona were forced to fight back after Diego scored a peach of an opener for Atletico Madrid. Neymar, though, replied in kind with a belter of his own, to keep the tie delicately poised heading into the second leg, even if Atletico will be the happier of the two sides.
At Old Trafford, Manchester United nearly made the start that David Moyes would have been praying for secretly to himself time and again, hoping against hope it would come true, when Danny Welbeck struck the ball home on the volley from 14 yards just past the 2nd minute.
However, much to Moyes' despair, the goal was disallowed for a high foot on the United forward as Bayern, almost insulted at conceding an early chance, took control.
It was the expected pattern of play, with Bayern enjoying almost all of the possession - 78 percent to be exact -- as United were pinned inside their own half for much of the first 45.
The home side were happy to give Bayern the ball, not that they had much of a choice really, in away side's own half, staying compact with all ten men behind the ball, and asking the Germans to find a way through.
There were a couple of skips of the beat for the home fans, as Bayern, with the ball stuck to their feet, created a couple of openings, primarily through their two best players - Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. The Dutchman was not playing in his usual role on the right, hugging the touchline, and giving the fullback - this time Alexander Buttner - a heart attack or two, as Robben kept drifting inside, almost playing a central role, constantly switching places with Thomas Muller.
Off a quickfire "Robbery" combination, Bayern nearly scored, but the cross from Robben, was just behind the Bayern players coming through, with David Alaba also firing in a cross later on which evaded his teammates as the experienced central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic held firm.
Bayern's best chance came via that wonderfully gifted left boot of Robben, who fired a trademark curler which was kept out brilliantly by David De Gea just when the ball looked destined to nestle into the corner of the net.
United, actually should have gone into halftime 1-0 up, as Welbeck, the most dangerous player for the home side in the half, due to his pace and power, missed an absolute sitter.
Wayne Rooney's through ball to Welbeck was intercepted by Jerome Boateng, but the defender's weak connection put Welbeck through, anyway, with the striker, who only had Manuel Neuer to beat, trying a Messi-inspired chip, but instead producing a Welbeck quality effort, with the Bayern goalkeeper swatting the chance away like a basketball centre blocking a layup.
Man United, who brought on Shinji Kagawa for Ryan Giggs in the second half, made a really strong start, refusing to let Bayern control the game, giving as much as they received in the first ten minutes. And all that endeavour and fight was rewarded in the 58th minute, when United's outgoing skipper came to the fore.
Kagawa won a corner for the home side, which Rooney swung in for Vidic, left all alone by a static Bayern defence, to wonderfully arc his head to guide the ball into the corner - his first Champions League goal in five years.
Guardiola reacted to going down a goal, something that Bayern have rarely experienced this season, by bringing on the physical presence of Mario Mandzukic, for the peripheral Muller, and it proved to be a masterstroke.
Robben and Rafinha combined down the right, with the latter sticking a cross to the back post for Mandzukic to head down to Schweinsteiger, who planted a gorgeous half-volley into the roof of the net from 10 yards in the 66th minute.
Bayern controlled the rest of the second half, but never really looked like breaking the United walls down, with the night turning for the worse in the final moments, courtesy a yellow for Javi Martinez, which sees him suspended for the second leg, with goalscorer Schweinsteiger joining him on the sidelines at the Allianz Arena after picking up a second yellow card for a challenge on Rooney.
At the Camp Nou, there was to be no goals in the first half as well, with both teams suffering blows via injuries to their key players. Diego Costa, who was a major doubt for the game to begin with, had to be taken off for Atletico on 30 minutes, while Barcelona saw their central defender Gerard Pique forced off early after landing awkwardly, ironically while challenging for the ball with Costa.
Chances were few and far between, with the best one coming to a player who has worn both shirts with great distinction. Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, filling in for the injured Victor Valdes, fired a weak clearance straight to his opponents which allowed David Villa the perfect opportunity to score against his former side, but the Spanish international fired just wide from 12 yards when a goal looked inevitable.
Villa would have another chance late in the first half, with Pinto this time making a smart save off the striker's low effort.
At the other end, the little magician Messi nearly conjured the opening goal for Barcelona, wriggling his way past Miranda, like only he can, before finding a perfect reverse through ball for Andres Iniesta to run onto and strike. The ball was zoning in on the back of the net, only for Diego Godin to make a spectacular block.
Messi also tested Thibaut Courtois with a header off a cross from Dani Alves, while Neymar gave the Atletico goalkeeper some cause for worry with a long-range effort, which would have been a spectacular goal had it gone in.
However, it was the away side that broke the stalemate, with Atletico getting that crucial away goal early in the second half -- Diego Costa's namesake Diego firing home an absolute stunner from 30 yards, which dipped and swerved and thundered into the back of the net.
Knowing at least one goal was necessary to keep the tie in the balance going into the cauldron at the Vicente Calderon for the second leg, Barcelona threw everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, at Atletico, and were duly rewarded in the 70th minute courtesy a sumptuous goal.
Andres Iniesta, always the man for the big occasion, picked up the ball about 15 yards outside the penalty box, and found perfect ball for Neymar on the left channel, with the Brazilian, not bothering to take a touch, perfectly curling the ball into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Courtois.
Barcelona hunted for the winner, desperate to take a lead into the second leg, but Atletico, who would have gladly taken a 1-1 draw before the start of the game, stayed strong, thanks to some splendid saves from Courtois, and settled for the draw, which gives them a slight advantage.
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