Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Hell with Joga Bonito !! United Vs Barcelona CL Finals - Preview

United meet Barcelona in the finals of UEFA Champions league for the second time in 3 years. Its fitting that two of the best clubs face each other in what is arguably the world's best club competition, with United making to the finals for 3rd time in 4 years and Barcelona looking to replicate their 2009 success. Both sides have had a perfect run-in to the game by picking up their domestic league well in advance which made it possible to rest their key players for the massive game. Another notable similarity is that both overcame their domestic arch-rivals in the knock-out stages of the competition.

Although Barcelona are clear favourites to win this epic match, and hence the title, yours truly believes that United have what it takes to beat this seemingly unbeatable Catalan outfit. The belief is based on both legs of Semi-final between the two in 2008, more recently their loss in the first leg quarter-finals against Arsenal, their 1-1 draw in the home leg of semi-finals against Real Madrid and the role Pepe played in the first leg until he was red-carded.

Barcelona, for all their reputation of technical superiority and playing the beautiful game, lacks a Plan B. Their game is centered around fluid short passing and possession. And any disruption to this plan will leave them wanting on the field.

Starting XI, and formation:

Just like their tactics, Barca doesn't have too many options. Reacting to the nine changes that Sir Alex made to the second leg of the semi-finals against Schalke, Pep admitted he cannot even imagine doing that. So Barca's starting XI and their formation is as easy to guess as the colour of the jersey that the "home" team will wear for the match.

Although United's starting XI is not the kind of suspense associated with blockbuster thrillers, there is enough scope to speculate, owing to reasons both on and off the field. Van Der Saar, Evra,Vidic and Ferdinand are sure to start. The contest for the other spot in the defence is ironically between the twins. Rafael has started almost double the number of games than Fabio. However what could ultimately swing the chances in Fabio's favour is his temperament. Up front, there are noises about Rooney playing alone in a 4-5-1 leaving Chicharito on the bench. United cannot afford to start with a 5 man midfield and Rooney as lone striker because this could easily turn up to a 4-6-0 for United. When you pose no threat up front, the opposition can pack the midfield even more and you're in trouble. Especially when the opposition is called Barcelona. Mid-field is where we can speculate the most. Personally, it was heart-breaking not to see Fletcher feature in Gary Neville's testimonial. With little over 48 hours to go, his chance of participating in the finals is all but over. Giggs' case is altogether a different scenario. Although he is far too experienced to put the events behind him, initial indications from the man-in-charge doesn't seem to be encouraging for those who want Giggs to start. Nevertheless, his wife’s words of support for the winger offers a glimmer of hope. My prediction for the mid-field is Valencia-Carrick-Anderson-Park.Hopefully , the gaffer will surprise me!

The Plot:

Easy to guess. Barcelona will dominate possession, everyone stays close to the all and attack like a pack of wolves. Barca’s average ball possession in this year’s CL is 62%. That statistic is superfluous since Arsenal had 39% in first leg but still won 2-1. United should never look to grab the ball whenever they have it like a kid that grabs the doll from his friend. We should focus on certain areas of the pitch, for instance Busquets with the ball bang in the middle of the pitch or there abouts. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the game on Saturday will be how well United hold onto the ball once they have won it back.Nothing frustrates players more than, having spent two minutes pressing the ball to win it back, it is then given away at the first opportunity. Messi's goal in the 2009 final came from Patrice Evra's clearance which went straight to Xavi.

We must be able to concentrate on maintaining possession straight away even though we may have been chasing the ball intensely. We can beat Barca’s press for the ball if a longer pass out of the danger zone is employed quickly and we will have to avoid the number of misplaced passes.All said and done, we are at our best when we are attacking and that should be the motive every time we have the ball.

Sir Alex had mentioned that he respects Jose Mourinho and that he would turn to him for tips. He doesn’t have to literally ask him. All he needs to do is see what Pepe did. Pepe was the “Windscreen Wiper” who just “killed the ball”. That disrupted the ballet that is Barca’s passing game. Agreed that this will take away the beauty from the beautiful game. Hell with Joga Bonito! The most consensus candidate among the media, and fellow fans alike, for United’s trump card is Chicharito. No doubt. He will be the attacking and taking our cause to them. But for me, the most crucial player will be that “windscreen Wiper” who runs across the mid-field to disrupt their fluid and fluent passing game. Fletcher would have been ideal for that job. But in his assumed absence, Anderson, Park or even Rooney may fit the bill.

My prediction? 6-0 United !!! Hahahahahaha.

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