Sweet memories: Manchester United fans will fondly remember when their team met Bayern in 1999

There's only one place to start really isn't there? And that's the end. Or, rather, the middle that inspired the end. On the eve of – yes – that night, Alex Ferguson met his old Aberdeen forward Steve Archibald who told him that, from his own only Champions League final with Barcelona in 1986, he never forgot the agony of being only a few feet from the trophy after Steaua Bucharest's victorious shoot-out and not being able to touch it. At the time, Ferguson spluttered "I cannae tell 'em that – it's far too much pressure." Until half-time came that was and he realised such pressure was exactly what was needed to ultimately fire a very flat performance. Everyone up to Ryan Giggs admitted the following words were eventually what won it against Bayern Munich.

"You will be six feet away from the European Cup, but you won't be able to touch it. And I want you to think about the fact that you'll have been so close to it and for many of you that will be the closest you will ever get."

The truth was that, for all except Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown and Jaap Stam at Milan, that was the closest they did ever get. The European dynasty Ferguson dreamed of with that young team never materialised. Indeed, amid all the hyperbole about this rematch of 1999, it's often forgotten that pretty much the same Bayern team ended that era at United by completely outclassing them in the quarter-finals two years later. Within two months, Ferguson broke up that famous midfield as well as the Andy Cole-Dwight Yorke partnership by signing Juan Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Should United fail to beat Bayern this time though, the fact is they'll probably be passing by another agonising chance to make even greater history. Once the quarter-final was drawn, the feeling was the path was laid to reach the final yet again. That would be the third in a row, making this United the only team to have managed the feat after Real Madrid 1955-60, Benfica 1961-63, Ajax 1971-73, Bayern 1974-76 as well as Juventus 1996-98, and Ferguson the only manager to have done so after Marcello Lippi. In today's more challenging Champions League that's as close to a dynasty as seemingly anyone other than Barcelona is going to get.

Not that Bayern can be discounted so drastically though, even if they do go into the tie very much as second favourites. Indeed, that United are going to face extremely tricky opposition is down to a sudden change of attitude half way through affairs from their own coach. As November became December and Bayern's brave new world under Louis van Gaal was transforming into the same old nightmare under Jurgen Klinsmann, the club was about to fall out of the title race, out of the Champions League and Philipp Lahm was falling out with everyone else after he was fined for publicly lambasting the club's philosophy or lack thereof.

So van Gaal, in a move greatly at odds with his image of an unyielding authoritarian, changed it. Realising, in Rafa Benitez terms, that he had been bought too many lamps when he needed a sofa, he changed the set-up to suit all of the shining lights. Switching from the 4-3-3 that brought a European Cup at Ajax, van Gaal reverted to 4-4-2 but with the novel move of playing the energetic Bastian Schweinsteiger in holding midfield. At a stroke, seemingly the best possible balance was found between some sort of defensive stability and releasing the devastating pace of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. In a superb run, they went to Turin to dramatically turn over Juventus and returned to the top of the Bundesliga.

Injury has interrupted Ribery's season even if he is coming back to something like his best form but Robben hasn't looked this rampaging since his first season at Chelsea. The space they require, however, provides an interesting role reversal from that 1999 final (yes, we know, but it's hardly going to be the last time you hear about it). Now, Bayern are the freewheeling, devil-may-care attackers – even if the likes of Nurnberg and Hamburg disagree from their domestic displays – while United are the patient pragmatists, the natural progression from Ferguson's long schooling in the European game. Just like in the big-four games, and especially with their defence back, United are likely to attempt to quietly control before countering for the away goal.

Given the efficiency of their results lately, you wouldn't bet against it succeeding. But then, with the likes of Robben and Ribery potentially providing the unpredictable, Ferguson will know the value of a plan B.

Bayern Munich V Manchester United, Tuesday, 7.45, Allianz Arena, Live, TV3, 7.00