It is fitting that the contest is not only a rematch of the 2009 final but also that it takes place between the champions of the two best leagues in European football. Barcelona are already considered the best football team in club football today and could go down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time. Manchester United, meanwhile, have had an inconsistent season by their high standards but have (as ever) looked decidedly better in the latter stages of the season.
Nevertheless, the record breaking Premier League champions face a mammoth task in London. Barcelona’s starting line-up is arguably the best around and features the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and a certain Lionel Messi (you may have heard of him). The question is what can United do to stop the Spanish giants and defeat them at Wembley?
There has been much talk in the past few weeks as to what team Sir Alex Ferguson will deploy in the final. Although the classic 4-4-2 featuring Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez has paid dividends for the Red Devils in the last couple of months it seems more likely that the Scot will go for a 4-5-1 with two holding midfield players and Rooney as the sole striker. This is a risk since “Chicharito” has looked fantastic this season and his movement gives even the most solid of defensive partnerships (and Pique and Puyol are the best of the best) nightmares.
Nevertheless, Barcelona control games with their possession in the centre of the park and two defensive midfielders would be a good way to break up the Catalonian’s rhythm across midfield. Once Xavi and Iniesta start moving the ball around it is difficult to get it back from them but 5 men across the centre, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher playing defensively, would give United a strong chance of doing just that. Of course this doesn’t account for a certain diminutive Argentinian.
Lionel Messi is the best player in football today and an argument is already being made that he is the greatest to ever step on the football pitch. It is hard to dispute those claims. His phenomenal goal against Real Madrid in the first leg of the El Classico semi-final encounter was the sort that makes you stand up in your living room and give the Argentinian a standing ovation, even though you know he can’t hear you. The man is a footballing genius. Plain and simple. United will need to find a way to stop him from doing what he does best.
One solution for this could be to have a player man-mark Messi. With two men covering the back four, it would allow Carrick to play the traditional defensive midfield role whilst Fletcher sticks to Messi like glue and stops him from playing his game. This has been proven to work before, not least in the aforementioned first-leg semi-final clash with Real Madrid in which Messi was kept quiet by Pepe until his sending off left a gap on the field allowing Messi to do what he does best.
If Fletcher could stop Messi from running at the United defence then at least one problem will have been dealt with. After all, let us not forget that great though Ferdinand and Vidic are as a defensive partnership, Vidic does have a history of panicking when fast strikers run at him (see Torres, Fernando). If Vidic was to bring down Messi and get himself sent off it would be disastrous for United, and they would probably be dead in the water from then on. Man marking Messi could prevent these problems.