Given the contrasting fortunes of the English and German champions this season, any theory that Manchester United may have an edge as they travel to Bayern Munich for their Champions League quarter-final decider has a slightly hollow ring to it.
Bayern carry a vital away goal into Wednesday’s second leg after Sebastian Schweinsteiger’s strike cancelled out Nemanja Vidic’s opener at Old Trafford last week.
But studying the form guide of the reigning European champions allows some straws to be clutched at by United, who are enduring their worst season in more than 20 years since David Moyes took over from Alex Ferguson in the summer.
He will play, 100 percent. Great players always play the great games and I bet a beer that he will play.
The Bavarians have cantered to the successful defence of their Bundesliga title with a record seven games to spare, but their own new boss Pep Guardiola has since come in for criticism after three games without a win.
Guardiola may have expected some slack for not quite managing to go the entire domestic season unbeaten after losing to Augsburg at the weekend – a match that ended the run at 53 without a defeat – especially if the players he rested secure the team’s place in the Champions League semis against United.
“I knew that we would lose eventually,” said Guardiola in the buildup to Wednesday’s tie.
“The team knows how important the Champions League is. Obviously we still have to play the last few Bundesliga games but our targets are now different ones.”
United put in a good showing in the first leg to draw 1-1 but it is some indication of how far they have fallen this year that a home draw in Europe was met with relief.
They have scored eight goals in their last two Premier League games, but the previous 3-0 defeat to their former favourite whipping boys Manchester City showed why they are seventh and unlikely to qualify for next year’s Champions League unless they win this year’s.
A three-game wobble by Bayern doesn’t change the stature of the respective lineups, although Schweinsteiger is suspended and Thiago Alcantara injured.
United say they are unsure of the fitness of England striker Wayne Rooney, who got a toe injury in the first leg, but Guardiola was prepared to drink to Rooney’s health. “He will play, 100 percent. Great players always play the great games and I bet a beer that he will play,” the former Barcelona coach said on Tuesday.
Barca, whom Guardiola led to two Champions League trophies, travel to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday after salvaging a 1-1 draw against the team leading them in the Spanish Primera Division.
Diego Simeone’s side are bidding to become the first team other than Barca or Real Madrid to win the Spanish title in 10 years, and are also confident of knocking the Catalans out of Europe after Diego Ribas’ stunning away goal was made only slightly less damaging by Neymar’s equaliser at the Nou Camp.
They also hope to have 33-goal Diego Costa back at the Vicente Calderon after he picked up a hamstring strain in the first leg.
But that may prove too much of a risk for Atletico in the domestic season run-in, as they try to clinch a first title since Simeone played in their midfield in 1996.