Manchester United return to the Champions League tonight, travelling to Germany to face European giants Bayern Munich.
The home side will start as favourites given the quality in their ranks and United’s long list of absentees.
Erik ten Hag will need all his managerial nouse to take something away from the Allianz Arena, with Bayern amongst the front-runners to lift the trophy at Wembley next June.
The opening exchanges in any European away game often prove pivotal and United will need to be on their metal right from the word go tonight, with Bayern notoriously fast starters, especially on home soil.
Ten Hag will be drumming into his players the importance of switching on at the start of the game, and indeed any further restarts, with United far too charitable from kick offs in the last 12 months.
For United to get through the opening exchanges and beyond they will no doubt have to keep a familiar foe quiet, in the shape of Harry Kane.
Kane is one of the worlds best in and around the penalty area but can also drop deep to link the play so the importance of following him from his advanced positions to a deeper role, is vital.
Bayern have a pair of dangerous wide men in the shape of Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane and cutting the supply in behind United’s full-back’s will go a long way to stunting the Germans.
The injury to Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the weekend loss to Brighton could hardly have been more ill-timed. The Englishman’s defensive qualities are outstanding and Diogo Dalot and Sergio Reguilon are going to have to perform well this evening.
However, for all of Bayern’s attacking threat, they do give up chances. Thomas Tuchel’s men play an extremely high defensive line and can be exposed in behind, as they were by Bayer Leverkusen in their last Bundesliga game.
Additionally, United’s pace in attacking areas is electric and Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund and either Alejandro Garnacho or Facundo Pellistri should be licking their lips at the space Bayern will leave.
Ten Hag’s 4-2-3-1 formation will be designed to get bodies behind the ball but still possess the ability to get from back to front in a flash.
Quick passes from back to front have been a feature of some of United’s most impressive wins under Ten Hag and in the shape of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes, they have two wonderful ball players who can deliver intelligent, early passes to turn the Bayern back four.
United are not expected to control possession in Munich and these early balls in transition surely represent their best chance of leaving Germany with a positive result.
Ten Hag will be desperate to avoid defeat and a point, in what looks like the hardest fixture of Group A, would represent a very creditable start to United’s European campaign.