Thursday, 26 May 2011

How do Man Utd beat Barcelona?

Few managers have worked out the answer to this question. Even the 'special one' struggles to work out how to stop one of the greatest sides ever. and this will be the only thought on Sir Alex Ferguson's mind as the Champions League final draws nearer. For the second time in three years it will be between Man Utd and Barcelona who also contested the 2009 final where Barcelona won their third ever Champions League by beating Ferguson's men 2 - 0. That night the goals came courtesy of Samuel Eto'o who has since left and Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly, Messi will play a big part again when he steps out onto the Wembley Turf.

The departure of Eto'o is one example of the changes that we've seen at both clubs. Barcelona have added the likes of David Villa to their ranks and United have signed Javier Hernandez whilst Cristiano Ronaldo swapped Old Trafford for Barca's main rivals.

After having seen his side dominated by Barcelona two years ago, Ferguson faces some big decision has he attempts to overcome one of the best sides of all time.

One of the first questions will be what system United use. On one hand, Man Utd have had much success in Europe with a 4-5-1 system and he may be tempted to flood the middle again to limit the space created for Messi and co. However, United have generally used a 4-4-2 system this season with Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney leading the line. United have continued to have success, both domestically where they secured a record 19th league title and in Europe and Hernandez has turned out to be one of the signings of the season.

If United do use 4-4-2 this would enable them to attack more to possibly expose the weaknesses of Barcelona's defence. In particular, the pace and movement of Chicharito could cause Barcelone problems especially if he can get in behind the defence. It could also stop Barcelona from building at the back which they love to do and limit the effectiveness of Alves who loves to attack down the right. Furthermore, Hernandez's pace, in particular could cause Barcelona problems, especially if he can get in behind the Barca defence. However, United will have to play with an element of caution against a team which includes the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, and, although Xavi and Iniesta possess the ability to unlock defences with perfect passes, Sergio Busquets plays in a deeper role and provides a good link between defence and midfield. Wayne Rooney, who often drops deeper during games and doesn't hide away from defensive resposibilities could pick up Busquets when Barcelona have possession, making it less likely that United will be overran in midfield.

This could also enable United to benefit from the counter attack which could be crucial. They will probably have to accept that Barcelona will have long spells of possession and United may look to counter attack using the pace of Rooney and Hernandez.

Ferguson is expected to employ Valencia and Park on the wings who are far more aware defensively than Nani. Both of them will have to work hard because Barcelona's fullbacks usually play more like wingers. Alves, in particular will bomb down the right flank meaning Park's main job will be to stop the threat of the Brazilian.

Then of course then there is the small matter of stopping Lionel Messi. Messi likes to have the freedom to drift into different positions which means it will be very difficult to pick him. United's midfield will have to be constantly aware of the little Argentinian. One option is to man mark him and someone like Darren Fletcher could stop Lionel Messi from running at Vidic and Ferdinand. This would, however, mean using a 4-5-1 and Darren Fletcher may not be fully fit after playing so few games recently.

One thing for certain is that, if United are to win the game, they will have to have the belief that they can. If anyone can give them that it is Sir Alex Ferguson. He is the sort of manager who learns from his mistakes and his tactics will need to be spot on come Saturday evening.

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