Much like last season, Manchester United has painted itself into a corner quite early, needing a big win against a big fish to shock its campaign start.
Last year, after losing its opening two matches, United managed to secure a season-reviving win against Liverpool and would go on to have a decent outing, finishing third in the league and winning the League Cup.
Now, it goes up against German giant Bayern Munich, away from home, in the UEFA Champions League, after a stuttering start in the Premier League, where it lost three of its first five games, for the first time.
United has been caught in a whirlwind of issues - injuries have chipped away an already out-of-balance squad, while off-field shenanigans (Antony’s domestic violence allegations and Jadon Sancho’s ‘indiscipline’ have compounded manager Erik Ten Hag’s worry lines.
Bayern, on the other hand, has begun its league campaign without much fuss, only dropping points in a frantic 2-2 draw against title-challengers Bayer Leverkusen.
Record-signing Harry Kane has merged as one with the German outfit, hitting the ground running with four goals and an assist in four Bundesliga games.
“With his [Kane] personality and the way he plays, we have exactly the player we need. We’re trying to get him more involved in our game. We know it’ll be an absolute success story,” said Bayern manager Thomas Tuchel about Kane.
Defensive woes aplenty for Red Devils
A major reason for United’s woeful start has been its defensive frailty. In its opening five league games, it has conceded 10 goals, the joint-second worst in the league, from an expected goal against (xGA) tally of 9.1.
Injuries to first-choice defenders like Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissakka have contributed to this poor showing. United’s defensive performance has also been dragged down by some uncharacteristically porous performance from defensive midfielder Casemiro.
Kane, who was heavily linked to join the Red Devils before he joined Bayern, will look to feast on the situation and improve his numbers against the Premier League side, having scored only five goals in 18 appearances against them.
Bayern, on the other hand, has let in just four goals in four games with an xGA of 3.6, highlighting a stabler defensive core. The absence of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been shored up by Thomas Tuchel’s side, with new signing Kim Min Jae easing into the centre of the defence.
The chink in the armour for Bayern
Bayern’s although has a major chink, which fits perfectly well with United’s primary point of strength.
The Bavarians are yet to sort out their right-back issue, with the German side forced to use three different options there so far this season, including midfielder Konrad Laimer.
United’s primary attacking source is the searing pace of Marcus Rashford down the left. The English winger had a field day against Brighton, despite his side losing 1-3. The only thing which held him back was his decision-making in the final third.
Ten Hag will be hoping for a much more refined performance from Rashford, with his budding partnership with newly acquired striker Rasmus Hojlund offering promise to the Dutch manager.
Variance in buildup
Bayern is a side which likes to assert itself on the ball. No team has had more possession of the ball in Bundesliga than Bayern (62.3%).
Bayern’s attacking sequence contains an average of 4.72 passes (again league highest), with the side having the joint-most build-up attacks (shot ending sequence which consists of 10 passes or more) in the league.