The Busby Way’s Champions League final preview
Story of the Season – Barcelona
After a poor 2009/10 season, in which they failed to retain the Copa Del Rey and the Uefa Champions League, the behemoths of Barcelona still managed to win La Liga by a record 99 points and a luxury treble of trophies; Fifa World Club Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup.
The failure to capitalise on the treble of 08/09 was perhaps down to the botched attempt of replacing the supposed ‘on the wane’ Samuel Eto’o, with the vastly overrated Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Whereas the Cameroonian possessed a big match temperament, the penetration, quickness of touch/feet, movement to be the archetypal frontman for a side of Barcelona’s style, the Swede was basically none of the above and flattered to deceive all campaign, despite a well timed goal against Madrid, which provided a brief welcome respite from his critics. Consequently Barcelona were thwarted in their attempts to be the first side to retain the CL since its inception in 1992 and Eto’o who’d been consigned to the scrapheap, became the first player to win two European Trebles following his back-to-back achievements with Los Culés & the Nerrazuri, and the 4th player to win the CL in consecutive seasons after Desailly, P. Sousa and our old ‘ Hanging out the back of Shakira’ starlet Gerard Pique.
Wasting money on the likes of Chygrynskiy (€25M – S. Donetsk) didn’t help either, from the lean mean outfit of 08/09, Guardiola had lumbered the side with two cumbersome signings who moved as if the heavy transfer fees were millstones around their necks. So clearly action had to be taken and fair play to Pep, he didn’t rest on his laurels or delude himself into thinking that the relative failure of the 09/10 season was down to a one-off lapse in concentration or a transitional season in which time was needed for signings to bed in. Intuitively, he knew the players just didn’t have what it took to play for the club and he swiftly went about his work in the summer, keen to restore Barca as the Kings of Europe.
So out went Ibrahimovic, Chygrynskiy, T. Henry, R. Marquez, Y. Toure (as if they can just afford to get rid of a player of Yaya’s calibre at the drop of a hat) and in came the more nimble and theoretically more penetrative David Villa, a more rugged alternative option to Busquets in J. Mascherano and the likes of Adriano and Affelay (Winter Transfer Window).
However whilst Barca went about their work, their was also the inevitable summer transfer activity from their great perennial rivals Real Madrid. The acquisitions of World Cup stars such as Ozil, Khadiera, defensive reinforcements like Carvalho and talents like Canales & Di Maria brought hope that perhaps there was now sufficient talent at the club to provide Mourinho and C. Ronaldo with the platform to mount a successful offensive against the Catalans both domestically and in Europe.
However despite a surprisingly spirited effort by the Madristas, it just wasn’t meant to be… there still didn’t seem to be enough zest, unity and ultimately quality in the side to invoke fear in this Barcelona side and beat them when it mattered . There was a lusty blow landed by Madrid in the Copa del Rey Final and whilst it hurt the Catalan’s pride, it was ultimately revenged by Barca in the subsequent CL Semi-Final double-headers.
The following list, highlights the losses and draws suffered by a relatively full-strength Barca team this season (have omitted losses when they played reserve lineups). Whilst formation doesn’t really have any bearing on the solution regarding how to beat this Barca side, what is prevalent is the fact that aggression, pace going forwards and not letting them dictate proceedings is of utmost importance. It is impossible to fight fire with fire for 90 minutes, but there has to be potential to light a fire and invoke fear in them when given a chance to do so.
Notable Losses/Draws This Season – La Liga & CL (Match Summaries)
- Barcelona 0-2 Hercules (26, 59): Opposition played a brave 4-4-2, soaking up pressure but making the most of their attacks. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Adriano, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Mascherano, Iniesta, Keita, Messi, Villa, Bojan. Xavi & Pedro came on to try and muster a late charge but to no avail.
- Barcelona 1-1 Mallorca (42): Opposition played a 4-4-1-1, and equalised against the run of play from a corner.Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Pique, Milito, Abidal, Mascherano, Iniesta, Keita, Messi, Bojan, Pedro. No Xavi, Busquets once again & Villa was suspended.
- Sporting Gijon (16) 1-1 Barcelona (79): Opposition played an adventurous 4-2-3-1, looking very threatening on the counter and unlucky not to win. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Mascherano, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Affelay. Pedro came on to breathe life into the lacklustre Barca attack.
- Seville (48) 1-1 Barcelona (30): Opposition played a risky 4-2-3-1, were lucky in the first half but played better in the second with Kanoute in the hole behind Negredo. Barca Lineup Valdez, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Adriano, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Pedro. Pedro went off injured early on, Bojan came on and scored the opener.
- R. Madrid (83)1-1 Barcelona (52): Opposition played a 4-3-3 with Pepe in midfield over Ozil, were set up to counter-attack but generally very defensive and hard to break through. Barca had to rely on a sending off & penalty to open the scoring before being pegged back by a Ronaldo pen. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Pedro.
- Levante (40) 1-1 Barcelona (27): Opposition played in a 4-3-3 formation, having to equalise through Felipe Caicedo from close range. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Afellay.
- Rubin Kazan (29) 1-1 Barcelona (60): Opposition played in a 5-4-1 formation, which in reality involved sticking 11 men behind the ball. Noboa scored a penalty to open the scoring against a Barca side which had plenty of possession but no shots of note. Equalised through a Villa penalty. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Puyol, Adriano, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Iniesta.
- Copenhagen (32) 1-1 Barcelona (31): Opposition played in a very aggressive 4-4-2 and at times were leaving Barca chasing shadows. Intense high energy game which ended in an entertaining draw. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Puyol, Abidal, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Messi, Villa, Iniesta.
- Arsenal (78, 83) 2-1 Barcelona (26): Opposition played in an open 4-3-3, tried to take the game to Barca but were still struggling to keep grips with them and needed 2 late goals, to keep the tie alive. Barca Lineup – Valdez, Alves, Abidal, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa, Pedro.
Story of the Season – Manchester United
Like their Spanish counterparts, the Red Devils were also found wanting last season but unlike the Catalans had only the League Cup to put in the Trophy Cabinet. The loss of Ronaldo and Tevez, had led to Rooney shouldering the goal-scoring burden and whilst there were signs of development from Nani & Valencia, it was too much too soon to expect them to drive United to success playing either side of him. It didn’t help that Rooney suffered an injury against Bayern Munich in the UCL QF, an injury which perhaps curtailed any ambitions United had as to winning their 4th consecutive PL and attempting to reach the CL final for the 3rd consecutive year.
This summer was marked by the astute signings of centre-back Chris Smalling & goalscoring predator Javier Hernandez ( a star at the World Cup). Both played very vital roles in bringing the title back to Old Trafford, the former played more of a cover role but one which was essential considering the injury-prone nature of Rio Ferdinand and the latter had a sensational debut season, becoming an instant cult figure.
Despite these two refreshing this United side, it was the form of Wayne Rooney or more particularly his attitude which was the talking point for the first half of the season. A combination of off-the-field problems and not really hitting form since the injury against Bayern last year, led to frustration and him demanding a move away from the club. Thankfully, he was convinced otherwise and whilst it still took another few months before he hit form, once he did… United played some scintillating football, well at home anyway.
Whilst it is easy to get carried way with new players and the sensationalist saga of Rooney, it was the likes of Van Der Sar, Vidic, Ferdinand, Park, the evergreen Ryan Giggs and the goals of Berbatov & Nani which kept United competitive during the first half of the season. When the latter pair faded, it was the likes of Valencia, Carrick and the aforementioned pair of Rooney and Hernandez which helped United step up a level and cruise towards the PL title and their 3rd CL final in the last 4 years.
The following list is less inclusive than the Barcelona list, purely because the majority of readers are PL followers and don’t need reminding of United’s results, that said I’ve highlighted 3 losses in particular which are relevant to Saturday’s game against a side which boasts a strong midfield. These results highlight 2 facts, Scholes and Berbatov are not the go-to players if United want to win big games, the Arsenal game was probably the game that has ruled out Anderson & Nani’s chance of starting against the Catalans and the worrying possibility that Carrick could get overwhelmed if he is not given the right midfield partner or partners.
Notable Losses This Season – Premier League & FA Cup (Match Summaries)
- Liverpool (33, 38, 64) 3-1 Man.United (92): Opposition played a 4-5-1, dominating a pedestrian United midfield and a livewire in Luis Suarez who ran the United rearguard ragged, with Kuyt netting a hat trick. United Lineup – VDS, Rafael, Smalling, Brown, Evra, Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov.
- Arsenal (56) 1-0 Man. United: Opposition played in an agressive high tempo 4-3-3, outrunning and out-thinking a United midfield which was pretty strong. Rooney and Hernandez struggled to make an impact against a side whose defence matched the pair for pace. United Lineup – VDS, Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Park, Carrick, Anderson, Nani, Rooney, Hernandez.
- Man City (52) 1-0 Man. United: Once again an opposition played an aggressive high tempo 4-3-3, with Mancini unleashing this burgeoning City side from its shackles, who dominated United after a shaky start. Toure dominated midfield and Balotelli had a stormer. United Lineup – VDS, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Park, Scholes, Carrick, Valencia, Berbatov, Nani.