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Combined XI: Manchester United v Bayern Munich (21st century)

Ahead of Manchester United's must-win Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, we've put together a combined XI of the two clubs from the 21st century.

The two giants of European football have combined to appear in eight Champions League finals since their unforgettable meeting back in 1999, winning four.

With that in mind, we've put together a 4-2-3-1 of their best players since the turn of the century.

GK – Manuel Neuer

Manchester United had struggled to ever properly replace Peter Schmeichel, with Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll all given opportunities to impress, with Edwin van der Sar eventually filling the gap.

But with the Dutchman nearing retirement, United were forced to scour the market for a new goalkeeper, with Manuel Neuer a key target.

In the end, Bayern beat United to Neuer’s signature, and the German would go on to rival Oliver Kahn as one of the club’s – and country’s – greatest ever goalkeepers.

Neuer wasn’t just a supremely talented shot-stopper, but revolutionised the goalkeeping role, frequently – and effectively – spotted well outside his area to stop opposition attacks and start them for his team-mates.

With 11 Bundesliga titles and two Champions League crowns, he’ll be remembered as one of the game’s greats for years to come.

RB – Philipp Lahm

Jamie Carragher once said that full-backs were either failed wingers or failed centre-backs; Philipp Lahm was neither.

Pep Guardiola perhaps values tactical intelligence above all traits, and even with all of the supremely gifted players he’s worked with, described Lahm as “perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained.”

Equally adept at playing at either right back or left-back, Guardiola deemed Lahm too intelligent and too talented to be limited to such a role, deploying Lahm in midfield in his later midfield years.

A full-back in name only, Lahm had it all.

CB – Rio Ferdinand

While the modern game values the ability to play out from the back more than in previous years, Rio Ferdinand was well ahead of his time.

With excellent speed to keep up with the paciest of attackers, Ferdinand also had a brilliant reading of the game and a brilliant timing of tackles. Indeed, Ferdinand went 18 months without picking up a yellow card, and even went 27 consecutive Premier League games without conceding a foul.

Ferdinand would retire as a six-time inductee to the Premier League Team of the Year, and was named in the FIFPro World XI after United’s 2008 Champions League 

CB – Nemanja Vidic

From the elegance and grace of Rio Ferdinand to the blood and thunder of Nemanja Vidic.

While Vidic was seen as the more no-nonsense of the pair, it shouldn’t be understated that Vidic was also capable of receiving the ball, but could physically dominate each and every centre-forward he came up against.

Critics would point to his battles with Fernando Torres, but even one of the best strikers in Premier League history managed just three goals in 15 games against Vidic, who would twice be named in the FIFPro World XI and was twice named the Premier League Player of the Season.

LB – David Alaba

Along with Philipp Lahm, David Alaba would briefly form one of Europe’s most potent full-back pairings. 

The arrival of Pep Guardiola saw Lahm spend more time in midfield, though due to his physical abilities and technical attributes, Alaba was capable of joining him in the middle of the park.

When deployed as a traditional left-back, Alaba was adept at the defensive side of the game while contributing going forward, but had the tactical nous and versatility to play at centre-back when need, while also inverting into midfield.

Alaba would spend a total of 10 years as part of the Bayern first team, where he’d go down as one of the club’s greatest defenders.

CM – Paul Scholes

One of the best midfielders of his generation, there are few teams Paul Scholes wouldn’t have got into through the 21st century. 

One of England’s all-time great technicians, Scholes was also perhaps the most intelligent midfielder his country had seen for a generation. 

In the early 2000s, Scholes moved out of midfield to play behind the striker. Following the exit of Juan Sebastian Veron, he moved back into midfield. 

As he entered his latter years, he played in a deeper-lying midfield role where, like Andrea Pirlo, it could be argued he played his best football, showcasing week in, week out, how important it was to have a controller in midfield, capable of dictating play for 90 minutes.

So good was Scholes that he came out of retirement, returning to the Manchester United side, playing an important role in their 2012/13 title win.

CM – Bastian Schweinsteiger

The only player on this list to have played for both Bayern Munich and Manchester United, but it’s not his days at Old Trafford he’ll be remembered for.

It’s not often you get a player physically capable of being deployed as a box-to-box midfielder, while having the intelligence to play in a deeper role at the same time, but it’s how Bastian Schweinsteiger spent 10 years at Bayern.

A World Cup winner with Germany, Schweinsteiger had it all. Composure to calm a game down, the vision to pick out a pass, the tenacity to win the ball back, and the energy to combined all facets of his game at once. 

A Champions League winner, an eight-time Bundesliga winner, and one of the best midfielders of his generation.

AM – Thomas Muller

There are many words used to describe elite footballers. The one perhaps most fitting for Thomas Muller is ‘effective’.

At first glance, Muller doesn’t seem to have many of the technical attributes of an elite footballer, but as far as intelligence and work rate goes, few supersede him. 

Ever since bursting onto the scene at the 2010 World Cup, Muller has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time – and finding team mates who also happen to be in the right place at the right time.

This is no coincidence, of course; coincidences don’t happen for over a decade. Throughout Bayern’s ultra-dominant era of 11 straight titles, Muller has contributed to 20+ goals in all bar three of those campaigns.

Across those 11 seasons, Muller has notched a goal or assist every 99 minutes. 

Remarkable longevity from a Bayern great.

RW – Arjen Robben

It takes a special kind of player to have a move that you can see coming as he has possession of the ball, yet still be totally powerless to stop it.

When Arjen Robben received the ball on the right wing, he’d run at his full-back, drop the shoulder, cut inside and curl one into the far corner. It would be known as the Arjen Robben goal, and despite being known for only having one foot, it was a more potent weapon than most footballers had with two feet.

Having suffered the ignominy of missing a crucial penalty in Bayern's 2012 Champions League final defeat, the Dutchman responded perfectly the following year, scoring a late winner as Bayern beat rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1. 

LW – Cristiano Ronaldo

Breaking through as the tricky, wiry right-midfielder tasked with replacing David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo could hardly have been further from his predecessor. 

Manchester United no longer had someone capable of delivering wicked crosses, but had a player capable of terrifying defenders with blistering foot speed.

It wasn’t until Ronaldo started scoring with every shot he attempted that he was given more attacking responsibility and could start cutting inside from the left wing onto his preferred right foot.

Although Ronaldo’s Real Madrid days saw more trophies and more goals, his first Ballon d’Or came at Old Trafford, when he led United to a third European Cup.

CF – Robert Lewandowski

In the likes of Giovane Elber, Roy Makaay, Luca Toni and Mario Gomez, Bayern Munich had a number of strikers throughout the 2000s who were capable of finding the net. 

But the arrival of Robert Lewandowski marked the beginning of an eight-year period of a bona fide world class striker leading the line.

Bayern had won two titles in the previous four years before signing Lewandowski; they’d win eight on the bounce in the following eight years.

253 Bundesliga games, 238 Bundesliga goals; a footballing icon and one of the greatest strikers of all time.

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