As Barcelona humbled a defiant but ultimately poor Man Utd side at Wembley, the euphoria of a record-equalling 19th domestic title seem to vanish completely.
Despite reclaiming the PL title in what was, for me at least, one of our most impressive seasons under Fergie as he got criticised left, right and centre about how ordinary his side were, there was a sense of failure. What followed was the realisation that we need to up our game in order to compete with the likes of Barcelona.
Barcelona was now the standard to aspire to.
At first, it was a mere reaction to a humiliating defeat, one of defiance and determination to improve. It was about being positive. Then, it seemed like people started assuming that only Barcelona were in our way towards world domination. We started talking about how to counter Barcelona (apparently, a tough tackling midfield was all we needed…). We assumed that, come May next year, we will have to think about how to beat the Spanish club at the Allianz Arena. Overcoming Barcelona was now Fergie’s last challenge before he retires from football. What I hate about all this talk of usurping Barca is that we seem to be thinking that we are guaranteed a chance to do so in the big final next year. One or two mega signings will instantly mean that we will beat Barca. Do we really think that we are the lone rival of Barcelona, fighting for the world title?
Nothing could be further from reality. It is true that we were the second best team in Europe last season and deservedly so. We did not annihilate Chelsea and Arsenal to the PL title though. We are not light years ahead of the chasing pack in the PL. Preparations (for club and for fans) for next season should not focus on Barcelona. They are a phenomenal team. There is no way we can just add 1-2 players and suddenly be in a position to beat them.
Anyone can beat anyone in football but Barcelona, for me, were unbeatable at Wembley. We could argue all day about tactics. The fact of the matter is that Barcelona were the overwhelmingly superior team and it is going to be like that for some time. What we need to focus on instead is making sure we actually get to the point where we have the privilege to challenge them again. As Fergie recently said about Barca:
“We will try to move on and get above them, but the target is to be in Munich in May next year and only then, if it’s Barca again, can we assess how we are able to cope with that.”
We should not be blinded by the ambition of capturing the European crown. What we need to do is make sure we don’t get overrun at home. Next season, Chelsea and Arsenal will be baying for blood. We haven’t cracked the league. They will come at us and they will be determined as ever so don’t underestimate them.
Apart from those two, I think Liverpool and Manchester City will also be threats. It is still a big ask for Liverpool although they are fast improving their squad and will be hungry for a CL place at least. Man City, on the other hand, are title contenders in my opinion. You don’t need to love them to realise that they have a fantastic team. Class goalkeeper, class defence containing the fantastic Kompany, class midfield (Silva in particular) and with Tevez a great striking force to which they will probably add the excellent Aguero.
The priority next season is undoubtedly the league and in my book, we already have the squad to do it and we have to be the favourites at the start of the season. Sneijder could come and add some glamour to our unfairly maligned midfield. But we already have the weapons in our arsenal to cope with the PL. We just need to make sure we deliver.
Let’s try to win the PL for a record-setting 20th time and then we will see if we can think about Barcelona.