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Thursday, 5 May 2011

How to beat the mighty Barcelona

There are easier tasks than this. Finding a way to beat one of the best teams ever to walk onto a football pitch is not easy but Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United team must find a way of doing that if they are to lift the European Cup at Wembley.

These are my propositions providing everyone is fit and available. 

First things first, United win the defensive battle. If Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are fit then that will be a huge boost. United have only conceded four goals all competition, half than Barca, so there's already reason to be in confident mood.

But here's the conundrum: How do you stifle that Barcelona midfield but attack them at the same time.

The best way to get at Barcelona is down the wings with pace, so I would definitely start Antonio Valencia on the right. His pace, crossing, dribbling ability, defensive work and finishing would cause any team problems.

On the left I'd have Park Ji Sung, purely for his tenacity and longevity. He can harry and hassle that Barcelona midfield all night long while others take advantage of the space that it creates. Park did this supremely well in the first leg against Chelsea and it proved vital.

The dilemma left is who and how many you play in central midfield to stem that unbelievably strong Barca midfield as well as having enough players to go forward and create chances for yourself. 

You can attack....

One way to go about it would be to sacrifice a central midfielder and play Rooney off Hernandez with Giggs and Carrick in the middle. This may be a risky strategy against a team with Barcelona's prowess in midfield but it would give United more attacking options, something which Arsenal suffered badly from when they played Barcelona in the Nou Camp. 

In that game, Robin Van Persie was completely stranded up front and had very little support from the Arsenal midfield, thus allowing Barcelona to take control and continue to attack wave after wave. With Rooney playing behind Hernandez, you would not have the same problem because Rooney would act as the linkup man between the midfield and attack.

The problem this leaves, though, is the vulnerability of the midfield. When you have the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta up against you, you need all the midfielders you can get. However, Arsenal used a similar lineup to this at the Emirates and it paid off as they won the game 2-1, albeit courtesy of some wayward Barcelona finishing. 

If you were to play this team then the key would be to score first and take a lead into the second half where you can then use your replacements to hold onto that lead. 

My bench would be: Kuszack, O'Shea, Smalling, Fletcher, Scholes, Anderson, Berbatov. If United were leading on the hour mark then I would bring Fletcher on for Hernandez and play a five-man midfield with Rooney up top on his own. I'd also be inclined to bring the anergy of Anderson on for Giggs.

Or you can pack the midfield and sit back...

I think this strategy would prove successful in preventing Barcelona's making forward progress. The energy and tenacity of Fletcher, Anderson and Park would stifle that midfield but the problem you have is who would support Rooney up front.

If you were to do this then I'd also consider to perhaps start Nani ahead of Park, purely for his attacking outlet and ability to create something out of nothing. But his lack of defensive qualities would count against him.

This choice of lineup would force you to flood the bench with attacking options, the likes of Berbatov and Hernandez would have to be there.

My choice...

My starting XI would be somewhere in the middle, you need the energy in the midfield but you can't afford not to have an attacking outlet. The other key decision is who to start at right back; John O'Shea or Rafael Da Silva. I'd edge towards O'Shea, purely for his experience.

I also feel that Giggs has to start. He maybe getting on a bit but a man with two Champions League's winners medals cannot be left out. He was the star of the show against Chelsea and the United midfield can look lost without him. I'd start him behind Rooney so he can play the free role, linking up between the striker and midfield.

Bench: Kuzsack, Smalling, Fabio, Anderson, Scholes, Nani, Hernandez. 

Having conceded four less goals than Barcelona in the competition and gone unbeaten so far, there are plenty of encouraging signs for United fans as we look ahead to  a European Cup final against the mighty Barcelona at Wembley. And it does not get better than that.

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