With only 90 minutes left to maintain their Champions League credentials, Manchester United host an already-qualified Bayern Munich at the Old Trafford in their final Group A clash on today.
Both sides were humiliated domestically over the weekend, as the Red Devils were beaten 3-0 at home to Bournemouth in the Premier League, while Thomas Tuchel’s side suffered a shock 5-1 thrashing away to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga.
Worst hosts first in today’s intriguing Champions League contest, where Man United require a particular set of circumstances to materialise if they are to sneak into second place behind Bayern, whose status as group winners has already been rubber-stamped.
High-scoring affairs have been commonplace for the permeable Red Devils in this season’s European Cup, and their trip to Galatasaray on November 29 was no different, but another calamitous collapse saw Erik ten Hag’s men throw away 2-0 and 3-1 leads to draw 3-3 with the Turkish giants.
A familiar sense of doom and gloom set in as Kerem Akturkoglu’s thunderbolt sailed into the roof of the net, leaving Man United bottom of the section on four points and knowing that only a win will do on Tuesday if they are to prolong their adventure in Europe’s premier competition.
Even if the Red Devils can defy the odds, they would need Copenhagen and Galatasaray both of whom are one point better off to play out a stalemate in their contest, otherwise a demotion to the Europa League or complete elimination from continental football will serve to dampen the Christmas spirit even further.
While Man United were briefly walking in a winter wonderland against Chelsea, Bournemouth were in dreamland at the Theatre of Dreams at the weekend,
inflicting a harrowing 3-0 Premier League defeat on Ten Hag’s troops to leave the Dutchman openly admitting that his side were “not good enough” to compete consistently at the top level.
Ten Hag and his opposite number Thomas Tuchel can at least empathise with one another when it comes to recent domestic hidings, as the German champions suffered their first Bundesliga defeat of the season in incredible circumstances during Saturday’s visit to Eintracht Frankfurt.
A sublime finish from Joshua Kimmich was a scant consolation for the Bavarians, who had already shipped three goals before the Germany international curled home from the edge of the area, and Manuel Neuer’s goal was breached on two more occasions in a Commerzbank Arena annihilation.
That 5-1 crushing marked Bayern’s first game since being held to an underwhelming goalless draw by Copenhagen in Group A, but having taken 12 points from their opening four games in the section, this week’s visitors to Old Trafford are only battling to restore a much-needed sense of pride in Manchester.
History suggests that an immediate fillip could be on the cards, as Bayern are aiming to extend their unbeaten run in Champions’ League group-stage away games to 20 matches this week, while each of their last eight have ended in victory, both of which represent all-time bests in Europe’s top competition.
An engrossing 4-3 beating of Man United at the Allianz Arena in September also made it back-to-back wins for Bayern against the Red Devils, whose only success from their last nine battles was a 3-2 Old Trafford win in April 2010, but replicating that result an unlucky 13 years later may not be enough to save their Champions League bacon this time around.
The vast majority of Man United’s injured contingent will not be making their returns anytime soon, as Lisandro Martinez (foot), Casemiro (thigh), Tyrell Malacia (knee), Christian Eriksen (knee) and Amad Diallo (knee) are expected to sit this one out, despite the latter’s recent return to full training.
Mason Mount (calf) and Victor Lindelof (knock) will need once-overs ahead of the visit of Bayern too, while Jadon Sancho’s ostracisation will not be ending any time soon, but Marcus Rashford who has been consigned to the bench so far this month – is back from a European ban.
A recall for Rashford should be one of a few alterations Ten Hag ponders after such a disastrous performance at the weekend, and the likes of Kobbie Mainoo, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Rasmus Hojlund and potentially even Raphael Varane could benefit from some much-needed rotation.
As for Bayern, their Bundesliga battering at Frankfurt was an especially painful experience for Serge Gnabry, who had only been on the field for five minutes as a substitute before succumbing to a “major strain”, which will keep him sidelined for a while.
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