Beating Barca: How do United do it?

The main goal for United (besides scoring obviously) will be to stop Barcelona’s success in the final third.

Say what you will about Jose Mourinho’s tactics against the Catalonian’s but they have found some success. Inter Milan last year for example defended stoutly in that final third and although Barcelona enjoyed the majority of the possession, they were unable to do anything with it. This is a big key to Manchester United victory on Saturday night. If Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand and Rafael (or Fabio, Or O’Shea) can stay strong as a back four and resist the urge to bomb forward, and Carrick and Fletcher keep position in front of them, then it could pay dividends for United.

In doing this, of course, United will be looking to catch the Spanish champions on the break. I have little doubt that Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park will be the three players rounding out the midfield for the English champions. Giggs will need to use his creativity to pick out Rooney with long passes when possible as Busquets is one of the best at the defensive midfield role and he will not be easy to get past. Valencia and Park will need to bomb down the wings and exploit the areas in which Barcelona may have a weakness.

Certainly at left-back Barcelona have looked unsteady in the past. Abidal is not as solid as some would hope and Valencia is a fantastic winger with frightening pace who can take full advantage of this. On the other side, Park is a tireless worker who is incredibly creative. His pace and stamina are also well noted. However, Dani Alves seemingly wrote the book on speed and cardio. Neither men seem to tire and it should make for a fascinating battle to watch. Great as Alves is though he does occasionally get caught too high up the pitch and a quick break for United with Park bombing down the left flank could exploit this. The two wingers’ job is quite simply to run down those wings and cross the ball into the middle for Rooney to pounce on.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Manchester United cannot concede a goal early as they did in 2009. As soon as Samuel Eto’o buried the ball after just 10 minutes, United were fighting an uphill battle. If United can weather the early storm from Barcelona, the first 20 minutes of the match say, then perhaps they can find their rhythm against the Spanish giants and look to work the game plan of catching them on the break. If they go 1-0 down early on though, they will be in serious trouble.

So the keys to victory for United are essentially; don’t concede early, stay strong across midfield to stop Xavi, Iniesta and Messi from working their magic, stay strong in defence to stop Barcelona’s success in the final third, and try and catch Barcelona on the break particularly on the wings. If Manchester United can stick to this sort of strategy then they might be able to pull off the upset in this one. Honestly though I just can’t see it happening.

Barcelona should take this one 2-0 again, expect Messi to do something spectacular too. In all honesty, United’s best strategy could be to ask for divine intervention. Barcelona are just that good.

Barcelona pose a huge threat (thank you captain obvious!) and whilst I like the idea of marking Messi out of the game by playing 2 DMs in a 5 man midfield I have little to no faith in the chance of seeing Darren Fletcher starting on Saturday so once again we will miss the Scot’s energy.

It is being reported that United will go with the same line up as we did against Schalke: Van der Sar, Fabio Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Giggs, Carrick, Park Ji-Sung, Rooney, Hernandez.

A 4-4-2 lineup doesn’t really invoke feelings of optimism from me in this instance. I would hope we pack the midfield in an attempt to stifle and counter. Park and Valencia’s defensive capabilities mean they will be extremely useful in helping repel Barca but that would be mainly in the wide areas and it is in the middle of the park that Barca pose the biggest threat.

Luckily this line up includes Rooney who will act as an auxiliary midfielder, dropping deep and linking play from midfield to attack. As well as that he isn’t afraid to put in a shift and get some mud on his shorts if need be so maybe we can be a tad more optimistic.

Barcelona aren’t Gods and they can be beaten. It has been done before and I think if United can keep their heads and play Barca the team rather than the hype we can perform way better than we did in Rome and pull off the win.

Written by Alex Watt of This Is Futbol