Friday, May 27, 2011

Beating Barcelona:: Key Battles

Key Battles
Rio Ferdinand & Nemanja Vidic vs Leo Messi and negative space. 
No doubt Ferdinand and Vidic are one of, if not the best central defensive partnerships in world football, and can repel aerial bombardment and fluid, incisive, attacking pressure. Leo Messi, David Villa and Pedro are something entirely different. Their combined interplay in and around the penalty box causes havoc in regards to marking. Neither man to man, nor zonal marking work against their front three in open play, as Messi, operating as a central floating, "false nine" attacker, creates space just in front of the opposition penalty box
for Pedro, Villa, Iniesta and Xavi to run into. He also drops of the defensive line to turn and run/dribble at the defenders, which catches defenders on their heels as his agility, speed and close control draws fouls with remarkable frequency.
Without the ball, they close down like a pack of hounds, and if they don't get the ball back within a few seconds, they fall back into defensive shape, without loosing easing the pressure off those on the ball.
They don't just pressurize the opposition defense when out of possession, but they pressurize in such a manner as to force defenders into giving the ball to the  player least comfortable on the ball, who they then force into an error.

2 or 3 Midfielders vs Xavi, Iniesta & Busquests(Mascherano) 
Carrick is most likely to start, but who he'll be partnered by is a mystery, most journalists predict that Ryan Giggs will start, as he started against Chelsea and Schalke in earlier rounds. Whether or not Sir Alex opts to play a third central midfielder, there is no doubt Park and Valencia on the wings will tuck in when they have not got possession, and that Wayne Rooney will drop back to mark Busquets and attempt to distrupt the flow of balls from defense to Xavi and Iniesta.

Wayne Rooney or/&Javier Hernandez vs Carles Puyol & Gerrard Pique 
Pace, finishing accuracy and pressure. There is no doubt that United will create a few chances during the game, and these chances may come early, or may come in the final seconds of the match. Either way, Rooney, Hernandez or whoever gets the chance must take it. In 2009, if Park's shot had gone in past the protruding foot of Gerrard Pique, the nature of the game would have changed completely. United cannot afford to miss golden opportunities, whenever they come. Hernandez is a great harrier, and will apply pressure on Puyol, Pique and Valdes, forcing them into playing long balls under pressure from defense will help United, and United's defence must also be wary not to concede possession in a similar manner, something Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick sometimes do.  Shooting from distance can work against Victor Valdes, who can be caught cold from 18/20 yards with well placed shots into the corners.  Fast counter-attacks must be effective, and if worse comes to worse, Micheal Owen might have a role to play.

Park Ji Sung & Patrice Evra vs Pedro Rodriguez & Daniel Alves  
Rafael/O'Shea/Fabio & Antonio Valencia/Luis Nani  vs David Villa & Abidal/Maxwell/Adriano 

Although Daniel Alves is much more attacking than his counterpart on the left wing, defending both flanks will be very important if United are to end the night victorious. David Villa and Pedro aren't natural wingers, and drift in from the flanks to participate in the "carousel" that produces chances for whoever runs on from the midfield. They do sometimes, however, wait on the wings for a "inside/out" ball from Xavi or Iniesta to run onto, from which they deliver an assist for an on-rushing midfielder or shoot themselves. The way they play also allows the right and left wing back the space and time to overlap and provide width which drags defenders out of position, and provide the "angled passes" which catches the defense out of position.
That said, playing such a high defensive line, and allowing Alves and the left back to get forward allows our own wingers and wing backs to get forward to provide offensive width and support counter attacks.

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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


With Kenny Dalglish showcasing two promising 18 year old full backs, in a game of such repute, even if Liverpoolare now only playing for pride and prize money related to a higher league place, United fans must wonder how low, or high a level United must reach for academy graduates to get a competitive first team game. Both 18 year old fullbacks,  John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, did an above average job nullifying the threat posed on the wings from Walcott & Nasri and later on Bendtner & Arshavin. Considering that it was Robinson's first appearance and Flanagan's second, they did a remarkable job of keeping Arsenal from playing their usual game which requires a fast passing game making use of the full width of the pitch. Does this show the lack of strength at Liverpool, or Kenny Dalglish simply realizing that for now, for their currently limited ambitions, they are good enough?