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Bayern Munich vs Manchester United – War of the Wingers

Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery

By Jason Mathias.

It’s not often in football nowadays that you get two teams colliding who boast the quality of wingers that will be on show tomorrow night in the Allianz Arena.  Bayern Munich, not always a side renowned for attacking flair, have added pace to their game under Louis van Gaal, and it is moulded around the talents of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Manchester United, on the other hand, continue to look for inspiration from the form duo of Antonio Valencia and rejuvenated Nani. It’s a tussle that may well end up deciding this Champions League quarter final clash.

I fully expect Sir Alex Ferguson to go in to the away leg with his tried and tested 4-5-1 formation, hoping to use Valencia, Nani and Park to provide the support for Wayne Rooney to grab a vital away goal. And with this counter-attacking set-up, the performances of Valencia and Nani will be vital to the team’s success. Bayern have favoured a very attacking 4-4-2 this season, but that may be a risk against this Manchester United side brimming with confidence.

Ferguson has admitted in the build-up that stopping Robben and Ribery will be key to United’s gameplan.

“Robben and Ribery are the ones who have been carrying the banner for Bayern.

“They have been behind in games so many times and one of those two has always rescued them, so they are obviously the players to watch.”

Therefore United will be boosted by the news that Robben is a major doubt for the game after picking up a calf injury in the weekend defeat to Stuttgart. With Bastian Schweinsteiger suspended, it leaves Bayern short of their first choice midfield, something which could be taken advantage of by United with the 5 man midfield. However, with Ribery available, the threat still remains. Preferring to cut inside from the left, Ribery will seemingly come up against Manchester United stalwart Gary Neville, something which the Germans could definitely benefit from. The Frenchman has admitted that he may be looking for a summer move out of Germany and will no doubt be determined to put himself in the shop window for the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Manchester United know all about Arjen Robben, having come so close to securing his services in 2004 before Chelsea took advantage of their arrangement with PSV to snap him up. After initially starring for Chelsea, the Dutchman suffered with injuries and moved to Real Madrid where it was a similar story. His transfer to Bayern in the summer seemed to coincide with his injuries becoming less prominent. However, now it seems his curse may have struck again at the worst time imaginable.

There were some doubts cast by United fans when Antonio Valencia signed in the summer. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving, a bigger name was expected, with Ribery being one of those linked. However, Valencia has had a fantastic debut season, with his direct running and crossing ability being the catalyst for many of Wayne Rooney’s goals. Valencia’s wing play is almost completely opposite to Ronaldo. He has no real tricks and shoots rarely, but his qualities come in his knowledge of how to use his blistering speed to the best effect. A quick change of pace, a flick around the full back or an early cross; what has impressed me most about him is his intelligence. And he has a great willingness to help out defensively, something often lacking in the typical winger. This will be a great weapon against Ribery, where Gary Neville may well need some back-up.

Nani has had a season where he must have felt at the very bottom and the very top at points. With Ronaldo gone, it was supposed to be Nani’s time to step up and deliver on his potential. But he began the season in unconvincing fashion and rarely got a look in until the home game with Hull in January. On that day he performed superbly, and ever since he has taken on the mantle and changed his form around completely. While not as comfortable on the left, Nani is clearly learning more every week he plays there, and this was shown in abundance with his terrific showing against Bolton on Saturday.

With arguably the best pair of wingers in Europe on show tomorrow night in Munich, the match promises to be an open game with plenty of attacking pace and flair. In this moment when the art of the winger seems to be a dying breed, it should be a memorable tie for neutrals as well as fans of the two teams.

Is there a team with better wingers than on show in Munich? How do you think the tie will play out? Let us know by leaving your comments below.

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