Date: 6th May 2011 at 12:45pm
Written by:

Saturday May 28th 2011, 19.45.

Incase you’ve been living under a rock you will know that is when Manchester United take on Barcelona in the Champions League final.

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.


53 responses to “The man being tasked with stopping Lionel Messi and Barcelona”

  1. vazza says:

    Smalling can do that job .

    how about placing smalling in front of vidic and rio 🙂

    He has pace . Can win the ball from box to box.

  2. RedScot says:

    Never a truer word written, than the return of Darren Fletcher at this vital time with Barcelona in our sights.I think and failed when I tried to write after the 04Schalke game about Barcelona, and their strengths.Its simply any opposing player as soon he recieves the ball the closest Barcelona player is on that player, to rush him to make a mistake and pass the ball quickly.This invariably happens, and Barcelona regain the football, to start their intricate inter play between themselves.Fletcher is the man to hustle them in the same way,because of his ‘engine’ not unlike the maligned Ji Sung Park.These are the type of player’s United will need on the day at Wembley to regain the ball, play them at their own game, knock them of their silky football, with invariably zero end product.It can be done,as witnessed in a few of Barcelona’s results in La Liga, against lesser teams than Manchester United.
    I think Darren needs a gid bowl of Scotch broth a wee hug, and the balls to do what he does best, a Scottish Terrier.Darren will have Rome in his mind, as will Sir Alex, who will find the key to unlock that weak Barcelona backline.
    The game in my opinion “will” be one in the middle of the park, our attack players are as good as Barcelona’s,our defence better than theirs,our goal keeper better than theirs.Fingers crossed our midfield steps up to the challenge to get our hands on “Big Ears” as Frank on Truly Reds call’s

    • Steven 111 says:

      By the same logic Barcelona should adopt the tactics of Wolves and they should have success against Manchester United.

      In a league you will not consistently play your best. In the final Barcelona will, and in the process make Manchester look small. People say Manchester didn’t turn up on the day in Rome for some reason. That is horse manure.Here’s an analogy: Against my 8 year old brother in the back garden he simply can not live with my pressing game, my sublime skills and forceful shots. I truly am world class against him. But against a better opponent I am far worse and cannot beat him as easily or score as many. Judging yourself against Barcelona is the best way to measure your true quality. I seriously doubt whether United will muster a shot on goal in the match. Honestly. Real only managed 1 on target on Camp Nou(and they needed 3 goals). Arsenal got none.

      David Villa> Hernadez
      Messi > Rooney
      Pedro> Nani/Valencia.

    • Steven 111 says:

      Your defense is not better. Your goalkeeper is not better. Your attack is not better. If it was United would be regarded as best ever.

      You English who only watch Barca in CL said all this before final in Rome.

      If your defense is better then how come you lost 2-0 in the Rome final. Eto skinned Vidic. Messi lost Ferdy in box.

      Pique = regarded as best centre back in Europe at moment by many.

      Both in World Team of the year.

      Puyol = warrior defender. Dominates physically like Vidic.

      Alves = best RB in World. But the legend that is Jos or the headless Brazilian twins are better?

      Pique and Puyol form nucleus of the Spanish national team. They won the European and World cup. They are fantastic and compliment each other so well.

      Rio’ I leave the hard graft to Vidic’ Ferdinand and Vidic himself struggle against pace and have been routinely taken to the cleaners by Torres in his pomp. The MVP will leave them for dead.

      2-0 to Barca in Rome. If anyone has the weak defense and weak attack it is Manchester as evidenced by that game.

      The team’s defense does not concede goals. The team’s attack does not score goals. The team does both. This is a reason why Barcelona have scored more and conceded more than Manchester it is because of the team – i.e. how they play.
      Barca play far riskier football than United but the benefits are very great indeed. They can exert they will upon the opposition. United do not. They play a more balanced and conservative game and have a more defensive philosophy. Barca play a phiolosophy based on possession and on the possibility of attaining 100% possession and thus completing the game of football -impossibilty of course. With 100% possession no chance of conceding. Thus a defense does not exist. If 0% possession no chance of scoring. This an attack does not exist. In football there is no attack and no defense; there is the team – and I do not mean that in a morally inspirational way but in a logical way.

  3. Yosh says:

    Ever heard that one by Kelis – trick me?

  4. timbo says:

    Though it’s seldom been done to its fullest extent, United need to adopt a tactic similar to that used in other football codes, particularly something like Australian Rules football, of employing ‘taggers’ to shadow the oppositions best players and take them out of the game. Given his high energy and speed, Fergie could do worse than set Fletcher the task of tracking Messi defensively all over the pitch to minimise his impact. Sometimes a player is simply too good to play against conventionally, and Messi is one of those rare individuals who require special attention. Play 4-2-1-3, with Fletcher as one of the two defensive midfielders assigned to track and stop Messi. The key is the fullbacks and wingers coordinating well so that the former can provide penetration up the sidelines while being protected by the likes of Valencia and Park, who are both excellent at dropping back into the corners to provide protection when necessary. As well as Hernandez has been playing I can’t see Fergie taking the gamble of playing 4-4-2 against a midfield as superb as Barcelona’s. So that means Rooney on his own with Park and Valancia either side of him, perhaps Giggs or more likely Anderson in the attacking midfield role, and Fletcher and Carrick as the two midfield anchors. Personally I’d choose Anderson over Giggs for his energy and ability to negate even the best of midfielders on his day. And with two goals under his belt, his confidence should be up when near goal. Giggs would then be ideal as the kind of sub who could come on if needed to add a creative spark in the second half.

    • RedScot says:

      Great post as ever mate!I have always enjoyed your posts, since I saw you defending Dimitar Berbatov in the ‘Transfer Tavern’ so much better than I could do on that occasion.That is the point of the forums for me to learn about United, with civility to one another.The point I would like to raise, we are so close(Not that I ever thought we would get to the final)I think we should take a step back and recall when Jose Mourhino took on Barcelona with his Inter Milan side,now I dont care for Mourhino one bit, at United(seperate debate).What he did as both you and I are suggesting I think, is cut of the supply to Messi,bye erasing Xavi and Inesta out of the game, as Mourhino did in the Champions league final, to win it, bye not allowing that marvelous player time or supply.I am allowed to dream about a United win, not that I will get a ticket!
      Thats my view anyway.

  5. Steven 111 says:

    Fletcher played for Scotland was outclassed and bambozzled by Spanish midfielders. Since when has he become this ferociois rottweiler capable of disrupting the best midefiled trio in history of football? He is average. Good energy, gets about the place, doesn’t set up goals, doesn’t score goals, doesn’t control play, is not a bruiser??? Tell me why he is so good

    • Chudi says:

      He can create, he can score, he can bruise. If you’re going to criticise at least have an idea on the player first

      • Steven 111 says:

        No Yaya Toure or Pepe or De Jong are destoryers. Fletcher. No. You are deluded if you think he can stop Barca. I know him. You should stop licking his ass. Flecther is a Scottish avergare inetrnational who if Alex didn’t have a fondness for players called Darren (Fletc and Gibbo) he would be playing in the SPL. Barca magic midfiled trio are unrivalled. United will have below 35% possession. It is seriously debatable whether they will muster a shot on target. I mean that.

        • RedScot says:

          You are simply being disrespectfull to Fletcher mate.The game you refer to was Scotland 2 Spain 3.
          Fletchers best ever game for Scotland, widely recognised in the national colours.That was against the World cup holders, so why cant he do it again with better class players around him like he will have ….in Manchester United players. Have a bit of faith mate, it helps!

        • Steven 111 says:

          Spain totally bossed that game and were comfortably 2-0 in front before they took their foot off the gas and got complacent.

          Fletcher is heavily criticised for his inept performances for the Tartan Army. So saying that it was his best performance in his national colours doesn’t say much. It is all relative. Plus the fact Scotland staged a comeback obviously plays on fans emotional side and thus they over-praise their players for effort, graft etc. He was outclassed and chasing shadows for entire game. He had a poor game. Never got on the ball like a Modric would and never disrupted rhythm like Pepe did for Real against Barca, say.

          The old saying that certain players get better when they are not playing is very relevant here. Fletcher should count himself lucky he wasn’t playing in Rome because his rep would have been just as much damaged as Carrick’s was in

          He is an honest toiler – no more. The idea that he can keep Messi, Xavi, Inieta quiet is insane. They are the 3 best players in the world.

  6. tayo says:

    just play ur game.if u focus on messi that when pedro and villa will shine.if u can play defensive like chelsea it will be nice but let hope sir alex as learnt is mistake.

  7. karlomu says:

    great piont timbo, my ideal formation is much the same as yours with just giggs starting but the point you make about putin anderson in there with giggs as an impact sub is a great idea and one i hope sir alex has in mind…

  8. Frosty says:

    I think it is vital that Hernandez plays as Barcelona’s only weakness is against quick counter-attacks. This will mean Rooney playing in an attacking midfield position and doing a good job defensively on Busquets (who always seems to get more of the ball than Xavi and Iniesta). When Barca attack both full-backs go forward meaning Hernandez can quickly break into the channels and if United can find his runs quickly they can by-pass the midfield. I would play Fletcher and Carrick as holding midfielders but, because of his movement, it would be a mistake to man-mark Messi. They are just going to have to work very hard to close down Xavi and Iniesta to stop the passes into Messi.
    I might have a word with Fergie and tell him I’ve got the tactics all sorted – he just needs to work on motivating the players!

    • jonathan says:

      Terrific analysis Frosty! Definitely on point about Rooney and Chicharito being key, and dealing with Messi a step ahead.

    • Steven 111 says:

      Barca coped easily with Ronaldo, Di Maria, Kaka, Adebayor, Ozil on the counter-attack. That’s a very talented and quick counter-attacking unit.

      You cannot be serious when you say that Hernadez on the break into the channels is going to bring success. The threat quite simply is not great enough. Pique and Puyol would snuff that out blindfolded. Such a basic plan like pump it into the air cause we are bigger than them or exploit space in behind full-backs will not work. These are more or less in-exploitable weaknesses due to the Barca defense cover with Pique, Puyol, and Busquets adding height and mopping up the breaks.I believe United are a strong team but not a patch on the 09 one. Barca are quite possibly best team ever. They have no hope. And don’t reply by listing off cliches like ‘in a final anything can happen’ and ‘in a one of game…’ Their dominance should be such that compensates for the potential for United to be lucky on the night.

      • RedScot says:

        In a final anything can happen! lol

        • RedScot says:

          I sorta thought the article was about Darren Fletcher, not you playing football manager?
          Leave that to the greatest football manager ever, he will have worked Barcelona out this time.Innit

        • Steven 111 says:

          Work them out. Barcelona is not a puzzle, jigsaw or equation you can work out. Do you really think instructions he gives to Flecter, Park Ji Sung etc are going to make the slightest bit of difference to Barca dominating ball in the middle of the park? Methinks not. Park Ji Sing against Barcelona for goodness sake. That is laughable. Only included because he can run around like a headless chicked. I don’t think Barcelona would include a player in midfiled for that reason. Innit brov? Innit?

  9. HV says:

    he won’t start on sunday tho. hasn’t got the fitness back. but against blackpool and blackburn..he will play definietly, mentally boost and fitness boost
    i think against chelsea, it’ll be
    VDS, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Rafael/Fabio, Valencia, Carrick, Ando, Giggs, Rooney and Lil Pea.
    sub: Rafael/Fabio, Smalling, Berba, Lindsgared? don’t know how to spell his name. Nani, Oshea or Owen.

  10. jonathan says:

    I’m pretty much with Frosty. Hernandez is vital and he torched Spain (albeit in a friendly) just a few months ago, which featured Puyol and Pique. I’m pretty much for the same lineup that’s worked so well in the CL with Chicharooney as forwards, Giggs and Carrick in the centre, Park on the left and either Nani or Valencia on the right (that’s another debate).

    Regarding Fletcher, I’m a bit torn as I don’t have a problem with him being in the lineup; but we have a proven lineup that’s worked and I don’t know if a “destroyer” role is what’s needed against Barca – case in point: Diarra. What’s likely more needed is a CM with good positioning which Carrick provides, along with his superior passing ability. The gamble of course with him is which side of Carrick will will see at the final.

    Whether or not Fletch gets the start, I just hope Fergie doesn’t base too much of his selection as a response to Barca. Though we can’t be naive about their ability, we can’t develop an inferiorty complex and get sucked in the vortex of “how do we address Messi, who will watch Villa, etc…”. I trust Fergie will take their team into consideration, but also remember who we are and bring the fight to them.