David Moyes deserves credit not condemnation for stalling Bayern

The German side dominated at Old Trafford, but Manchester United exposed Bayern Munich's lack of a cutting edge in the way teams used to frustrate Guardiola's Barcelona

Much has already been made of Pep Guardiola's brief but distinctly awkward Taxi Driver moment during his press conference at Old Trafford after Bayern Munich and Manchester United had drawn 1-1 in the Champions League. "Look at me when I talk to you," Guardiola demanded as his interlocutor – the Guardian's own Jamie Jackson – momentarily took his eye off the world's most important football manager, who was answering a mildly searching question about his team's performance. This was in reality a non-incident, a five-second blip of irritation from a manager who had just made some very gracious comments about United's players and fans.

But it did seem poignant for other reasons. Guardiola is a brilliantly unforgiving perfectionist, with an ideologue's adherence to his own unrelenting, high-grade, Bavarian-issue Pep-ball. It is hardly surprising he felt slightly frustrated at 10.15pm on Tuesday night. United had just spent an hour and a half expertly refusing to look his team in the eye, refusing to engage, refusing to have this conversation. Look at me when I talk to you: Bayern had spent most of the night saying much the same thing, colonising an uncontested midfield, making 906 passes to United's 380 and generally trying very hard to win an argument with an opponent wearing a gag and a pair of earplugs.

David Moyes's tactics at Old Trafford have already been processed through the swill of public opinion, with an initial praise for a humiliation avoided outflanked by wider grumblings about a lack of ambition, about United failing to front up in midfield against the best midfield in the world, refusing to stand pass-to-pass with the team that always wins the passing duel, and generally failing to allow demonstrably superior footballers to express their demonstrable superiority.

There are two things worth saying about this. First of all, Moyes may deserve to be criticised, but not for that performance. He may end up never really looking like a Manchester United manager, but Tuesday night was the most Manchester United he's looked so far. An intelligent, feisty 1-1 draw against the world's best club team in the quarter-final of the Champions League should be a source of hope, not condemnation. Plus this was not simply a United-as-Everton performance – underdogs gallantly accepting their square-footed limitations – nor was it a gloom-laden mark of defeated expectations.

It is naive to suggest any of Europe's superpower clubs, pegged back by injury and poor form, would engage with a Guardiola team on even terms. Massed defence and speedy diagonal counterattack is a legitimate and occasionally successful tactic against this opposition: the tactics of Internazionale down to 10 men against Barcelona in 2010, or Chelsea two years later, both of whom also refused to look Pep in the eye, adopting instead a similar deep-lying filibuster-defence. This was also pretty much how United beat Barcelona over two legs in 2008, a performance of swarming blitz defence given a high-grade gloss by the sheer dreamy quality of Paul Scholes's winning goal.

Moyes no doubt learnt from what happened to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in October, where City did engage with a Bayern team arranged in what was essentially a 2-8-0 formation, and found themselves conceding three goals, victims of a failure to close down and leaving too much space in their own defensive third. In allowing Bayern to pass, as Bayern will pass, and instead setting his sights hopefully on the space behind that condensed midfield, Moyes simply acknowledged Bayern's brilliance at doing the thing Bayern are brilliant at doing. Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Franck Ribéry are objectively head and shoulders above any player in United's midfield, the managed decline of which remains both an ongoing sore and, frankly, a bit of a mystery (Alex Ferguson built his early strength from midfield – power and grace in the centre; power and speed on the wings – and once spent £28m on the pure midfield indulgence of Juan Sebastián Verón).

By the end the pass and possession stats almost act as a kind of reproach. Not only did Bayern complete far more passes than United, they also made and completed more long balls than United, on a night when United went long by design. And yet they still only scored one goal, and might conceivably have lost had Danny Welbeck finished better. Moyes does deserve credit for drawing such an unrelentingly ego-free performance from his players, who carried out his plans with unwavering concentration. It might not be everything, and United will still probably lose in Munich; there is a decisive talent-imbalance in this tie. But it is at least a sign of intelligent planning, and also of a significant togetherness.

Really, though, United are a sub-plot in this tie. It is Bayern who face a wider scrutiny as reigning European champions in the stewardship of the most celebrated managerial innovator of the last 10 years. And the fact is it was Guardiola rather than Moyes who had an off night at Old Trafford. Bayern were great at doing what Bayern are great at, albeit with a marginal drop in post-Bundesliga-title intensity. But they were also too narrow. At one stage in the first half Kroos could be seen repeatedly urging David Alaba out to the wing, while Schweinsteiger's goal came from a rare lateral switch of play across the pitch. Similarly a less system-led manager might have brought Mario Mandzukic on a little earlier when it became clear United had completely conceded the midfield, a player to test the close-quarter mobility of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, both of whom were allowed to have fine slow-burn positional games.

It is not a popularly held opinion, but there is a case to suggest Bayern are a less effective, less penetrative team than at this time last year, when rather than drawing at Old Trafford they were on their way to a thrilling 11-0 combined aggregate destruction of Juventus and Barcelona. Guardiola's team-in-progress is less thrusting, less prone to deploying its attacks in sudden surging waves. It is instead more Guardiola – and as a result likely to induce the kind of arch spoiling tactics Moyes engineered with United-worthy precision at Old Trafford.

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