"We can't worry too much about Ribéry and we won't," Sir Alex Ferguson asserted during today’s pre-match press conference. "We have to take care of him when he gets the ball – but he is no faster than Neville." Cue stifled laughter all round I would imagine. ‘No faster than Neville?’ Really? 35-year-old Gary Neville, Sir Alex?
Ferguson has become the undisputed king of dealing with the media throughout his 24 years at the helm at Old Trafford. Never one to suffer fools gladly, or without a four-word tirade up his sleeve to erupt in the face of any journo foolhardy enough to ask a silly question, even he must have had tongue firmly in cheek with this response.
Bayern have not failed to score in a match since way back on November 3 last year, when they fell to a 2-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena against potential semi-final opponents Bordeaux. That there are goals in this current tie is fairly obvious and that they will arrive due to a key contribution from either Frank Ribery or Arjen Robben is a wager few betting men could resist. With the latter back in the frame for a starting place tonight, Neville will either face someone who is fast or indeed, very fast. And although he dealt admirably with the advances of Ronaldinho in the preceding round, the former England right back has looked very susceptible to any sort of pace this season; in recent weeks, Ribery and Florent Malouda have both given him a torrid time.
This will be the key battleground for me tonight. If Neville drops off Ribery, then the Frenchman can exploit the United captain’s lack of pace and look to cut inside onto his favoured right foot at every opportunity. Should Neville get too tight, he is a deft touch from Ribery away from looking like a pillock and seriously exposing the rest of his own defence. Neville will certainly have to get his angles right. And although Robben has been most effective for Bayern this season coming off the right wing and using that pulverising left foot of his (case in point his marvellous finish against Fiorentina in the last 16), Van Gaal may wish to alternate him and Ribery against Neville to really test Sir Alex’s contention.
Neville as fast as Ribery – not bleeding likely. Robben? Pull the other one. Only time will tell if Robben carries a lesser sentence than Ribery. Boom Boom. Adam Bushby
Prediction - Bayern to go through