The UEFA Champions League comes to Old Trafford for the first time in the post Ferguson era, and Bayer Leverkusen are the latest challengers. In a group that is anything but straight-forward, Lever present the most challenging opposition, and both teams will look for a positive result to kick start their campaign.
As we all know, the pressure has been on Moyes and United to live up to their past, but a calm examination of the present will probably tell us not to worry about United too much. The quality is definitely there in the ranks, and the team has the experience it takes to win games at this level.
Leverkusen are making a return to this stage, and will be keen to make an impression at the Theatre of Dreams. The team is one that has performed well in the Bundesliga, finishing in the top 3 last season, and look strong despite the loss of key players like Schurrle and Carvajal.
United look much stronger than their opposition going into the game. Wayne Rooney has done well in his few appearances this season, and Robin van Persie has continued to find the back of the net with consistency. The problem for Manchester United is in the creative department. Michael Carrick has shown a tendency to falter under pressure. Tom Cleverley has been very neat, making about 70 passes a game at a completion rate of 87.5% this season, but not especially creative, as less than 1 of those 70 happens to be a key pass. Anderson has been consistently inconsistent, and relying on him against dangerous opponents like Leverkusen is risky. Kagawa is one who can make a difference, and shoulder the creative burden with Rooney. Playing Kagawa may also free up space on the left for Evra to attack, and add bite to the wing play. Defensively, United look rock solid, and this is an aspect that has slipped under the radar. Moyes has come in and solidified an already solid back line, with the Vidic-Ferdnand pairing looking hard to beat.
It is very easy, in the heat of the moment, to forget who United’s opponents are, but any intelligent man would think twice before betting against Leverkusen. Hyppia’s team are not one to be trifled with. The German outfit finished just a point behind Champions League finalists Dortmund last season, and Moyes and co. are well aware of the threat. Leverkusen have a good team, though not one that is littered with star names. Up front, the star of the team is Stefan Kieβling. The tall striker was the top scoring German in the Bundesliga last term, and has already notched up 4 goals this season. Behind him is the pacy and skillful duo of “Sam-Son”, Sidney Sam, and Heung Min Son (click here to read a Scout Report on him). Both players are used for their pace to effect quick transitions on the counter, and their skill to crate chances for Kieβling. Leverkusen are a team that looks to play on the counter, and are therefore not too concerned about dominating possession. They have an average of about 46% possession in the Bundesliga this season. This could be a slightly risky tactic, and that’s why we should expect to see Leverkusen press hard in midfield. They have the personnel to do so, with the likes of Castro, Lars Bender and Stefan Reinartz well capable of shutting down opposition midfielders. At the back, they too, bear a settled look. The gap left by the exit of Carvajal (click here to read a Scout Report on him) has been plugged by Giulio Donati, a solid, if unspectacular defender.
All in all, we can look forward to a game in which United’s midfield will be tested by Leverkusen. How well United’s midfield can use the possession afforded to them will determine the result. The battle between Kieβling and the United centre backs will also be interesting.
Manchester United vs Bayer Leverkusen