Barca: Mission impossible is actually very possible
Fletcher is undoubtedly the more disciplined of the two if both were to sit back, in his approach to the game and his tactical flexibility in midfield. A lot would have to depend on the Scotland international’s fitness and form levels, but if he can rediscover his 2009/10 form, United might just have the final puzzle in place. Afterall, to this very day Fletcher is still touted as the reason why United lost the final back in 2009.
Anderson’s style would complement Fletcher well, as they both perform holding roles shielding the back four. There has also been a significant improvement in the Brazilian’s passing ability and goal threat this season; he broke his goal-scoring duck last season against Spurs after playing over 100 games for the Red Devils, and has added four more to his tally this season. Three of these strikes have come in Europe – a promising sign indeed if he were to start the final.
There is one caveat in this proposed midfield composition: Michael Carrick, who has been the subject of derision from United fans in recent times, will miss out. Carrick was arguably their most important player in the latter European ties against Schalke and Chelsea, controlling and dictating the tempo of play. He has had his fair share of quiet supporters and vocal detractors ever since that fateful night in Rome, but will get the chance to vanquish his professional demons if he plays against Barca’s star-studded midfield again.
The one thing he does not offer and the one characteristic which could prove crucial in beating Barca however, is energy. In this department, players like the aforementioned Anderson, Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park shade him by a mile, and would offer more feasible options if Ferguson’s men are to get past Barca’s possession game by packing their midfield with activity.
Up-front, the Rooney and Hernandez partnership looks set to resume it’s usual day at the office. The Mexican has acclimatised to English football like a pea to it’s pod, no pun intended; he has scored 20 goals, making him the first since Ruud Van Nisteelroy to hit the 20 mark in his debut season.
But it is not goals that have warranted his first-team selection ahead of Dimitar Berbatov. If it were, the Bulgarian would start as he is still United’s top-scorer, despite only starting five games in the last seventeen. Instead, it is the Mexican’s consistency in finding the back of the net, be it the occasion or opponent which is of high value in Ferguson’s eyes. Although Berbatov has scored more goals, Hernandez has in fact scored on more occasions than the Bulgarian.
Waiting in the wings is the newly awarded United players’ player of the year, Luis Nani, who has been United’s chief orchestrator this season when creativity and excitement has been lacking. The Portugese winger is set to be one of Ferguson’s aces in the pack as he shuffles his line-up, with Valencia almost a certainty to start on the right. The Ecuadorian has added extra depth and a new dimension to United’s wing play ever since his return, with Ferguson calling him a ‘revelation since joining the club’. He adopts a direct approach while others go for the spectacular, and does a neat job. The ex-Wigan man is, at the moment, one of the best deliverers of the ball at the club, and that will be important if United are to make the most out of every attack when they are not defending. Valencia also tracks back often, always a welcome bonus if you are playing the best team in the world pinging the ball around with ease.
The other spot is likely to be a toss-up between Giggs and Park. Both offer different strengths if chosen; the inclusion of Ryan Giggs’ would mean a slightly more attacking line-up infused with the years of hardened experience the Welshman has gone through. Giggs still possess the creative vision to pick out a pass and is suited to a playmaking role, evident in the quarter-finals against Chelsea where all three goals were created by the Welsh Wizard.
Much has been made of the Red Devils’ resilience, and yet there is something compelling about Ferguson’s side this year. As the saying goes, the more ordinary your opponent looks on paper, the more dangerous it is in reality. The Blaugrana would do well to heed such advice. This is a team which has gradually climbed up the domestic ladder, albeit in a passive fashion, overtaking the superpowers of domestic football Arsenal, Chelsea and City along the way. This is a team which swept aside semi-finalists Schalke with ease, beating the Blues and breaking their Stamford bridge hoodoo to get there. Rising to challenges is what Manchester United do, and they are so good at it. This is what the Red Devils incarnate is all about.
A grandiose plan to stop the best
Ferguson insists he knows what exactly went wrong in Rome two years ago. We have been led to believe he has discovered a bane to Barcelona’s tika-taka, mesmerising style of play, a plan to stifle the world-class, seemingly uncontrollable midfield of Xavi and Iniesta, and an elusive way to stop the second best player in football in his mind, Lionel Messi. And even if he gets past these three key candidates, Ferguson’s side will still have to be more than a match for the formidable internationals in the Spanish side, like Villa, Pedro and Busquets.
On 28th May, Ferguson will let fly at Wembley. United’s legendary manager has an old score to settle with Pep and Barca, and his desire to beat an opponent that has got the best out of him on their last meeting will be secretly brooding. Barcelona will not underestimate United. Guardiola would have drilled that into them, and are likely to be as wary as United in approaching the game. A schoolboy mistake or slip-up could be the determinant of whether the trophy heads back home to Spain or England.
And Manchester United don’t make the same mistake twice.