It couldn’t have been any tougher for David Moyes and his faltering Manchester United team.
Of course there are no easy draws in the quarter-finals of the Champions League – it is the blue riband event of European club football after all – but there is no greater challenge in world football at the moment than Bayern Munich.
The Bavarians are relentless in their pursuit of an unprecedented ‘double Treble’ and already have one trophy safely under lock and key.
Off the back of a 53-match unbeaten sequence, Bayern wrapped up the Bundesliga title last week – the earliest it has even been mathematically secured.
They are in the semi-finals of the German Cup and equally focused on retaining the Champions League crown they won at Wembley last May.
So can United defy the odds and destroy the ambitions of Pep Guardiola’s men?
Ahead of Tuesday night’s first leg at Old Trafford, we rate all the players in the likely line-ups.
Manchester United (4-3-2-1): De Gea; Smalling, Vidic, Jones, Buttner; Carrick, Fellaini, Giggs; Valencia, Welbeck; Rooney
David De Gea 8.5/10
In a season when so many Manchester United players have underperformed, the same accusation can’t be levelled at David De Gea. The young Spanish goalkeeper regularly excels with point-blank and reflex saves, keeping United in contention in many games. He is maturing into a fine keeper and should be No 1 at Old Trafford for many years to come.
Chris Smalling 6/10
The man charged with keeping Franck Ribery at bay, Smalling will have to produce the best performance of his career. He has been culpable for too many goals this season with his poor positioning and lightweight tackling, with serious doubt cast on his long-term place in the United team. His versatility to play right across the back line does count in his favour in the eyes of Moyes, however.
Nemanja Vidic 7/10
These ties could be Vidic’s last for United in Europe and the Serbian warrior does not deserve to depart for his new challenge at Inter Milan off the back of a hiding. But the 32-year-old could struggle against the pace and improvisation of Bayern’s forward line, though his leadership will prove crucial in organising the troops against the onslaught.
Phil Jones 6/10
Another United man who will need to have the performance of his life is Jones, who has struggled against some of the better attacks this season. He will need to be inch-perfect with his positioning to keep Mandzukic and co at bay, as well as dominant in the aerial duties.
Alexander Buttner 5/10
It’s fair to say that Buttner did not expect to be facing the might of Bayern Munich this week, but Patrice Evra’s unfortunate suspension will press the inexperienced left-back into action. The Dutchman has only made 24 appearances for United but hopefully his intimacy with Dutch football will mean an in-depth knowledge of all Robben’s flicks and tricks.
Michael Carrick 6.5/10
Carrick has been exceptional over the last couple of seasons, finally growing into his destined role as heir to Paul Scholes. Struggling with an Achilles problem, he hasn’t reached the same standards this term but is absolutely crucial to United’s cause here. He must marshall the midfield and disrupt the supply lines to shield the back four, otherwise there’s a real danger United will be over-run.
Marouane Fellaini 5/10
Hardly the greatest debut season for the Belgian, who has struggled to come up to expectations. So far, the deadline day move last summer has represented good business only for Everton, who coined in £28.5m. Languid and featherlight in the tackle during too many big games this season, he has been roundly criticised by United fans and needs to step up.
Ryan Giggs 6/10
Evergreen Giggs rolled back the year to guide United past Olympiacos in the last round and it’s astonishing that United rely on the 40-year-old so heavily in European games. Still, it’s the lead part he was born to play and the Welshman will give body and soul to make sure his team are not embarrassed. Could there be time for one last, great Giggs performance in the Champions League?
Antonio Valencia 6.5/10
Valencia has been one of United’s better midfielders during this sub-par season and his superior crossing abilities have been noted by Moyes, who plays him in most matches and especially in Europe. With Bayern’s wing-backs keen to get forward, moving the ball swiftly to Valencia in behind could prove profitable for United if his deliveries are sharp.
Danny Welbeck 7/10
Moyes has succeeded where Sir Alex Ferguson stumbled and got some good form out of Welbeck at times this season. He has contributed 10 goals and five assists, yet is all-too-often left out for two or three games at a time. Welbeck came up with a crucial away goal in the Bernabeu when United played Real Madrid last season and so can perform on the biggest stage. Can he do it again?
Wayne Rooney 9/10
If United are to surprise everyone and eliminate Bayern, then Wayne Rooney is key. With his future at Old Trafford once again settled, he is in a purple patch once again, scoring 17 goals for United this season and chipping in with an incredible 21 assists. In the absence of the injured Robin van Persie, it is all down to the England star. He’s not one to shirk a challenge and he is perhaps the only man to genuinely unnerve the Bayern defence.
Bayern (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, Martinez, Boateng, Alaba; Schweinsteiger, Kroos; Robben, Gotze, Ribery; Mandzukic
Manuel Neuer 8.5/10
Neuer has been a virtual spectator in so many games during Bayern’s incredible unbeaten run, making it all the more remarkable when he pulls off an athletic save. Germany’s No 1 is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment.
Philipp Lahm 7.5/10
Every successful team needs an inspirational leader and, at Bayern, that man is skipper Lahm. He is capable of initiating attacks but his defensive solidity helps ensure the German champions keep clean sheets on a regular basis. Pep Guardiola sometimes deploys him as a defensive midfielder too and Lahm has adapted to the challenges of that new position with ease.
Javi Martinez 7/10
The Spaniard’s role has changed this season, with Guardiola stripping away a lot of the forward-thinking freedom he enjoyed under Jupp Heynckes. Instead of lining up in defensive midfield, Martinez can now more often be found dropping deep to assist the centre-backs and, at Old Trafford, he will likely line-up alongside Boateng in that defensive role. Whatever the posting, though, Martinez always impresses with his intelligent reading of the game and ability to find the right pass.
Jerome Boateng 7.5/10
Boateng is the ball-playing half of the central defensive duo he usually forms with Dante, his turn of pace meaning he is seldom beaten in a foot race with an attacker. At Old Trafford, he will be without his usually defensive partner but will still be incredibly tough for Wayne Rooney and co to break down.
David Alaba 8/10
Left-back Alaba and Frank Ribery have formed a formidable partnership down the flank. While the Austrian gets forward tirelessly in support of the French star, he also rarely leaves any space behind him like many other attacking full-backs.
Bastian Schweinsteiger 7/10
Schweinsteiger had his season interrupted by injury, meaning he was absent between November and February, but he has returned to the same consistent level since coming back into the side. The vital link between defence and attack, Schweinsteiger will relish the battle against Ryan Giggs, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick.
Toni Kroos 8/10
Guardiola has given him a slightly deeper role in midfield – and it has been revolutionary in his performances. He has thrived in Bayern’s total possession mentality – borne from their manager – and has adapted his game well. Little wonder United are keen to sign him.
Arjen Robben 9/10
There have been plenty of sneers about his greed on the ball and blatant diving, not least after the last 16 tie with Arsenal, but Robben just shrugs off the criticism to scale ever greater heights. He is the wrong side of 30 yet is still Bayern’s dynamo. He has 19 goals and 13 assists to his credit for club and country Holland this season and figuring out how to stop his passing, shots and cutting inside is a top priority for Moyes.
Mario Gotze 9/10
The most expensive German footballer of all time when he defected from Borussia Dortmund last summer, Gotze has adapted seamlessly to life under Guardiola at Bayern. The new boss has fully made use of his marvellous talent and he has been repaid with 13 goals and 10 assists. His myriad qualities are well known, from picking the killer pass through an apparently locked back-line to applying a deadly finishing touch.
Franck Ribery 9/10
Although he has been so often compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo after they went head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or award, he plays a slightly different role to them. As well as his obvious attacking threat, he is a hard-worker who is often found tracking back with a far more defensive mentality. A team player who brings other people into the game.
Mario Mandzukic 8/10
Bayern’s forward line have certainly been inventive this season and Mandzukic has benefited. He has 22 club goals to his name so far and also nine assists, combining lethal finishing and creativity. He does know that with the imminent arrival of Robert Lewandowski in the summer, his days may be numbered at the Allianz Arena – and the Premier League could await – but he can definitely go out on a high if he keep going the way he is.
BAYERN MUNICH TOTAL: 88.5/110