David Moyes takes charge of his first ever Champions League group stage game against Bayer Leverkusen tomorrow and will be looking to get off to a positive start in what is a potentially tricky group.
Sami Hyypia will bring his Leverkusen side and try to play on the counter-attack, absorbing the pressure from Manchester United whilst using the pace and movement upfront to cause problems on the break. This will be reflected in his starting line-up. Leverkusen will miss the presence of Lars Bender in midfield but in Stefan Reinhartz, they have a like-minded midfielder who can impose himself on a game, alongside the experienced Simon Rolfes.
United will respond by playing a strong midfield which will rely heavily upon Wayne Rooney dropping back when they are not in possession.
In the attacking phase and when in possession, it is important United try to exploit the wide areas with more sharpness than against Crystal Palace, with the full-backs important in doubling up against both Roberto Hilbert and Sebastian Boesnisch.
Sidney Sam and Son Heung-Min will do their best to protect their full-backs but it is vital that Ashley Young can have a similar game like on Saturday, and cut inside to get in behind Hilbert to pull Philipp Wollscheid out of position. That will allow Rooney and Robin van Persie to drop into pockets of space left in front of the defence.
However, when without the ball, it is paramount that Wayne Rooney drops deep to stop Bayer Leverkusen from passing towards the front three. Leverkusen’s main playmaker Castro has been ruled out of the game with a torn hamstring but his replacement will have a similar task of being the heartbeat of their attacks. Stefan Keissling will be a willing-runner in behind Vidic and Ferdinand but it is the intelligence and direct nature of Son and Sam that will need to be stopped. Both attacking forwards will look to cut inside and also get in behind Fabio and Evra, therefore if Rooney can keep Leverkusen’s playmaker under pressure, it will aid the defensive-line not to fall too deep to stop them.
The midfield will often be congested and Leverkusen’s midfield three will look to release the ball to the match-winners in their team. This means Vidic and Ferdinand must time when to push up the pitch and when to drop deep, as the pace on the counter-attack will be Leverkusen’s most dangerous weapon.
Stefan Keissling will look to move around and drop deep to allow Sam and Son to make angled-runs in behind the two full-backs. The sharp, short interchanges in play can completely take players out of the game therefore concentration must be high. Young and Valencia must help in tracking runs, especially from Hilbert and Boesnisch, who will look to join up in attacks.
David Moyes must look to win all of our home games if United are to have a chance of progressing as winners of this group. This is by no means an easy game but United are favourites and must make sure they avoid complacency. A poor result and the pressure will already be on after only one game.
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