The strange thing about football is that outside of the rules of the game there seem to be a separate set of rules, for example it is a given that the home team should have more possession and that they are normally favourites to win the match, I’ve sat in many a crowd over the years, I’ve sang, cheered, clapped and booed my way through many a fixture but did I make a difference to what happened on the pitch, no, not one bit.
I just don’t buy the whole ‘home advantage’ thing, for me you have two teams on the pitch with eleven players and the chance to win a football match, so tonight I’d like to see Manchester United break the mould, bend these fictitious rules and play the game like any other, they must be the ones to keep the ball, they must push forward and they must not give an inch in the tackle.
In short the key for United tonight will be to control the game, which away from home should just be as easy as doing it at Old Trafford, looking at the stats from the first four rounds of Champions League fixtures, they hold the advantage over tonight’s opponents in all areas of the pitch, so far this year they have created more opportunities (36-31), have a higher average possession (52% compared too Leverkusen’s 48%) and have won 4% more aerial duels despite the average height of the Red Devils being two inches shorter than their German counterparts.
For me it is midfield where this game will be won or lost, for Leverkusen the majority of the workload will fall on the shoulders of the tenacious Lars Bender, who’s tough tackling approach will no doubt unsettle the rhythm of United’s forward play and Simon Rolfes who has passed with deadly accuracy in his last three games (91%).
Indeed Moyes miserable efforts in the transfer market could be highlighted by Bender who many feel the United manager should have snapped up after failed bids for Cesc Fabregas and Sami Khedera, such is his presence in the Leverkusen line-up, the selection issues for Moyes are crucial.
How the manager picks his starters against the two named above could well be the factor that ensures qualification to the knockout stage, with Michael Carrick out for the next few weeks, the job of ball retention will surely lie with Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney may drop back into the attacking midfielder role should Moyes opt to start with Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck up front and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the experience of Ryan Giggs outweighing the youthful exuberance of Adnan Januzaj.
This selection process is crucial and Moyes will be buoyed by the first time the teams met, a comprehensive 4-2 victory for his side at Old Trafford, where he clearly got the better of former Liverpool defender turned manager Sami Hyypia.
If he gets his selection right tonight there is much more at stake than just three points, United will relieve the pressure of having to qualify in the last round of matches and as they struggle on the domestic front this could be a welcome reprieve.
United fans, who would you pick to start tonight’s game?
image: © birdies-perch