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Champions League: Can United challenge Bayern?

March 31, 2014 17:46 IST

Champions League: Can United challenge Bayern?

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Manchester United, comprehensively outplayed by local rivals Liverpool and ManchesterCity at Old Trafford recently, face an even tougher challenge when holders Bayern Munich come calling in the Champions League on Tuesday.

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Languishing seventh in the Premier League after a dismal first season under manager David Moyes, United are huge underdogs to get through the two-legged quarter-final against the Bundesliga champions.

Moyes will take little comfort from results at the weekend when Bayern's 19-match league winning streak ended in a 3-3 home draw with Hoffenheim after surrendering a 3-1 lead while United thrashed Aston Villa 4-1 in the Premier League.

United are a far cry from the team who commanded unreserved respect around Europe during Alex Ferguson's heyday but their home form in the Champions League this season has been good, in marked contrast to their woeful Premier League record at Old Trafford.


Image: Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans of Manchester United compete for the ball as team manager David Moyes watches during a training session at the Aon Training Complex in Manchester on Monday
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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'We cannot allow United's current position in the Premier League to affect our mindset'

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The English champions have won their first four home matches in the competition, something they last did in the 2007-08 campaign when they made it six out of six and went on to lift the trophy for the third time in Moscow.

But Bayern, managed by Pep Guardiola who outfoxed United in the 2009 and 2011 finals as Barcelona coach, have won their last seven Champions League away games. They also beat United on the away goals rule when the teams met at the same stage in 2010.

"We cannot allow Manchester United's current position in the Premier League to affect our mindset for this game," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm told uefa.com.

"We will travel to Manchester in order to play attacking football and score goals. I don't think it matters if you play the away leg first. Last year we played at home first a lot of the time and still managed to win the trophy.

"The most important thing for us will be to score goals in the away leg," added Lahm, whose side overcame Arsenal on the basis of their away results in the last-16 this season and last.


Image: Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich
Photographs: Handout/UEFA via Getty Images

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Playing first leg at home is not a disadvantage, feels Moyes

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Moyes can take heart from his team's recovery in their last-16 tie against Olympiakos Piraeus when they won 3-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick after losing the away leg 2-0.

Van Persie will miss both games against Bayern through injury but Wayne Rooney is enjoying a prolific run, the England striker's two goals against Villa taking his tally to five this month and 15 in the league this season.

Moyes does not see playing the first leg at home as a disadvantage.

"The way the game's going now with counter-attacking football and a different approach by teams away from home (means it is not so important)," he said.

The tie brings together two teams who have lifted the European Cup eight times between them and they met in the 1999 final in Barcelona when United snatched an extraordinary 2-1 victory from the jaws of defeat with two stoppage-time goals.

The defeat rankled with Bayern for years but they have beaten United every time they have met since and it would be a huge surprise if the German team fail to make the semi-finals.


Image: Manchester United manager David Moyes talks with Ryan Giggs during a training session at the Aon Training Complex on Monday
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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Barcelona and Atletico take La Liga rivalry to Europe

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Argentines Gerardo Martino and his Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone are in charge of two Spanish teams with a genuine chance of achieving a rare double of Champions League and La Liga titles.

Atletico are a point clear of Barca at the top of Spain's domestic league with seven games left and their final match of the campaign is another trip to Barca's daunting Nou Camp arena in May.

They have already played each other three times this term, with very little to choose between the sides.

Barca pipped Atletico to the season-opening Spanish Super Cup when Neymar's goal in a 1-1 first-leg draw in Madrid was enough for Barca after the second leg ended 0-0. Their La Liga game at the Calderon in January also finished goalless.

Barca warmed up for Tuesday's last eight, first leg with a laboured 1-0 win at city rivals Espanyol on Saturday thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty, while Diego Costa and Koke scored for Atletico in a 2-1 comeback win at Athletic Bilbao.

Simeone's men will need to demonstrate the same intensity they showed at the San Mames if they are to get the better of a Barca side buoyed by this month's 4-3 win at Real Madrid in the La Liga 'Clasico'.


Image: Barcelona's Dani Alves, Alex Song and Neymar go through the grind during a training session at Sant Joan Despi Sport Complex in Barcelona on Monday
Photographs: David Ramos/Getty Images

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Messi has scored 20 goals in 19 matches against Atletico

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Messi, whose season was disrupted by a two-month injury layoff either side of the New Year, appears to be coming into top form at exactly the right time, while playmaker Andres Iniesta is also looking close to his scintillating best.

Messi, the four-times World Player of the Year who comes from Martino's home town of Rosario, has scored 20 goals in 19 matches against Atletico, including three hat-tricks.

Barca playmaker Xavi said he would have preferred not to meet another Spanish team in Europe and praised Simeone for the way he has transformed Atletico since taking over at the end of 2011.

"Atletico Madrid know us very well," Xavi said in an interview published on Atletico's website (www.clubatleticodemadrid.com) on Sunday.

"Simeone has instilled an extraordinary winning mentality in the team and they have absolute faith in what they are doing," added the Spain international.

"It will be a very close tie, with few scoring chances due to the way Atletico play.

"It is never fun playing them. They don't allow you any space, they cover our creative areas very well.


Image: Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi warm up during a training session on Monday
Photographs: David Ramos/Getty Images

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'Costa is a lad who is improving day by day, he has enormous physical strength'

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"They don't leave room down the wings, they deploy people very effectively in the middle of the pitch and they are good on the counter attack."

The goals of Atletico's Brazil-born forward Costa have underpinned the team's success this season and he notched his 25th of the La Liga campaign at Bilbao, three behind top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and two ahead of Messi.

Costa will be up against a host of new teammates from his adopted country Spain on Tuesday, including defenders Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba and midfielders Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Iniesta.

"Costa is a lad who is improving day by day, he has enormous physical strength," Simeone told a news conference.

"The way the team plays is a consequence of what he can give us and he feels comfortable in the side."

The winner of the tie following next week's second leg in Madrid will go into the draw for the semi-finals on April 11.

In the other three quarter-finals, Real Madrid play Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain take on Chelsea and holders Bayern Munich face Manchester United.


Image: Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa
Photographs: Vincent West/Reuters

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