Man United have to beat the odds and Bayern to avoid Champions League elimination

Consistency has been the biggest issue for Ten Hag's team this season


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Manchester United players during a training session on Monday. — AFP
Manchester United players during a training session on Monday. — AFP

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 8:31 PM

The odds are against Manchester United as the three-time European Cup winners battle to avoid early elimination from the Champions League.

United face Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on Tuesday and need to end the German giants' record 39-game unbeaten run in the group stages to have any chance of advancing to the knockout rounds. But even that might not be enough, with Erik ten Hag's team sitting bottom of Group A and also relying on a draw between Copenhagen and Galatasaray in the group's other game.

“What I know is I never think of a negative scenario, we think positive, we know what to do, we have to win to stay in Europe, it’s about that,” the United manager said on Monday.

“We will prepare the team with that feeling, with that belief, we have shown in the last weeks when we are at our best we can do it.”

Consistency has been the biggest issue for Ten Hag this season. That was perfectly illustrated last week when United produced one of their best performances of the campaign to beat Chelsea 2-1 last Wednesday, but then lost 3-0 at home to Bournemouth, prompting loud jeers from fans inside Old Trafford.

Sitting alongside Ten Hag at a news conference ahead of the final group game against Bayern, midfielder Scott McTominay could not come up with an explanation for the team's wildly varying form.

He did, however, insist the players were behind the manager after recent reports of locker room unrest and a decade of hiring and firing coaches since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

“It is the players’ responsibility, first and foremost. The players know that as well,” McTominay said.

"It’s not just a case, like with some of the other managers, where it’s been a little bit toxic at times. The boys are firmly behind the manager. That’s the be all and end all and the way it will remain to stay.

“People can get lost in translation and carried away with what the players think and what they say behind closed doors. We just want to do well for the football club and it’s as simple as that.”

Even if United are eliminated from the Champions League, there is the possibility of the safety net of the Europa League if they can take third place in the group.

Either way, it's unlikely Ten Hag would have expected to be in this position after leading the club back into the competition in his first season in charge.

United were drawn in what appeared to be a relatively straight-forward group, needing to finish ahead of Danish club Copenhagen and Turkey's Galatasaray.

But they have managed to win just one of five games — beating Copenhagen 1-0 at home in October. Even then, they required a stoppage time penalty save from Andre Onana to secure the three points.

“Still we have the opportunity. It’s not any more in our hands, but we want to stay in Europe,” said Ten Hag. “We definitely know what to do. We have to win to stay in Europe.”

Bayern is already guaranteed to top the group and continue a run that has seen it advance to the round of 16 every season since the 2008-09 campaign.

It goes into the game on the back of a shock 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, which should provide Thomas Tuchel's team with added motivation to win in Manchester.

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