The ghosts of our last encounter still haunt those involved with the club as we were contained and beaten by a superior side on the night but this month we get a chance to avenge that.
Sir Alex Ferguson has continually insisted that he knows where he went wrong and given the chance he would rectify his mistakes from that night in Rome so in 3 weeks he gets a chance to do so and whilst many are writing us off, secretly there is a faith in Sir Alex amongst fans.
Whether Barcelona have strengthened from that game depends on opinion but you will be hard pressed to find anyone who feels Messi hasn’t improved and the addition of Villa etc makes them an even more daunting prospect but we too have changed and whilst we may have lost personnel like Ronaldo and Tevez the team has developed too with players like Nani maturing and Vidic and Ferdinand’s partnership looking strong amongst other things. We can also count on the addition of players like Valencia and the goal scoring sensation Javier Hernandez to aid our cause.
But there is potentially a huge bonus that could make our job just that bit easier.
Against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi final we witnessed a grave injustice as Darren Fletcher was red carded for a perfectly legal challenge on Cesc Fabregas and was thus ruled out of the final. I remember it well as a number of Arsenal fans remarked to me, ‘If we’re not going there then neither is he!’ United appealed to UEFA but nothing was done and Fletcher again missed the final of European football’s biggest competition.
This time around it appears that Sir Alex is intent on having Fletcher on the field. His form hasn’t been as good as it was in 09 but the fact he has had a stomach virus that has seen him lose body mass could have something to do with it. He returned against Arsenal’s reserves last Thursday and although he looked well short of match fitness, it was a huge step.
Sir Alex realises his importance and has said about the energetic midfielder,
“Wednesday (against Schalke) was a step forward but that 20 minutes was just to give him a boost really because the boy has a bit to do yet.
“He has almost has three weeks to the final and that is his target. If he does reach it, it would be a great boost to us. As we all know he is a big-game player.”
The boost would be massive, given Fletcher’s style of play having him on field would be perfect. Last time around it was Xavi and Iniesta that did the most damage from midfield so to have a ‘destroyer’ like Fletcher in there could help negate some of their influence.
Another bonus is the effect he could have on the performance of Messi.
Messi is a footballing terrorist in every sense of the word. The best laid plans of any manager can be torn asunder by one flash of brilliance from the Argentine maestro. He did it with his great solo effort against Real in the first leg of the semi final and realistically he can do it to us. There is no proven way of stopping him but looking at how he plays there are things you can try.
Reading Justin Mottershead’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lionel Messi, he made a point that immediately made me think of Fletcher,
It’s difficult to ask a central defender to look after Messi as the diminutive Argentinean has the ability to drop so deep you ideally need a defensive midfielder to pick him up.
I think Fletcher has the discipline to do this job and protect the back four. It would mean us losing out on the energy he provides all over the field but for me it is a sacrifice for the greater good.
Regardless of what capacity Sir Alex intends to use him, he is determined to have his man on the field on the Saturday evening and has even set out a schedule,
“We have Blackburn and Blackpool in the Premier League and also Gary Neville’s testimonial so there is some game time there that could help him to reach his target.”
Hopefully these games will afford Fletcher the time he needs to get back into shape because he will be needed in what will be his Champions League final debut.