So United face the all powerful behemoth that is FC Barcelona at Wembley on May 28th for the Champions League final.
Although the match is on English soil that’s probably about as much an advantage as it would be playing the Harlem Globetrotters in Los Angeles rather than New York.
The fact is Barcelona on their day look practically unbeatable, although that still hasn’t stopped every United fan with access to the internet or a phone from applying for a ticket. While we may be resigned to the fact that it’s going to take an almighty effort to prevent a repeat of what happened in Rome two years ago, there is the underlying feeling that not all hope is totally lost.
After all did Real Madrid not beat Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Ray? Did Arsenal not manage a victory over them at the Emirates? Did David Villa not recently endure an eleven game goal less run? Is it not possible that even the great sides can have one bad day at the office?
Okay so I’m clutching at straws somewhat but while the smart money may be on Barcelona leapfrogging United in European Cups in 23 days time, as always with United there has to be a little bit of optimism.
While the likes of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Pedro, Pique and Dani Alves may all be among the best on the planet in their position, most people agree that stopping living legend and a true contender for the world’s greatest ever player Lionel Messi is the key to victory.
Some of the ideas being mooted are:
Move Rafael or Fabio into the middle and have them man mark Messi for the entire game.
Pin our hopes on Darren Fletcher being fit enough and having the game of his life.
Ask Rooney to drop even deeper and stay with Messi.
Play Rio in front of the back four and promote Chris Smalling to the heart of defence.
Ask Anderson to mark Messi.
Hire the caterers from the infamous Spurs West Ham game in 2006 and ask them to look after Barcelona.
While all ideas have their good points there’s one major flaw in every single one of them – human error. United’s midfield has been arguably the most inconsistent department all season and there’s always a worry that whether it’s Fletcher, Carrick or Anderson tasked with trying to track Messi, it could end in disaster.
Playing Ferdinand anywhere other than centre back would be weakening our defence to a point where the likes of Pedro and Villa could well expose United and cause real problems.
Can we really trust either of the Brazillians not to get themselves sent off if charged with the task of marking Messi?
It’s difficult to ask a central defender to look after Messi as the diminutive Argentinean has the ability to drop so deep you ideally need a defensive midfielder to pick him up. Messi plays intricate one-twos with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta that mean midfielders can get caught ball chasing and lose track of him.
There may be credence to the idea of playing the midfield and defence a lot tighter to each other at Jose Mourinho did with Internazionale, granting Barcelona more possession but making it harder for them to create openings.
Personally I’d go for a five man midfield with Rooney dropping deeper and Fletcher sitting just in front of the back four, with Park the other man in the middle.
Of course this would mean dropping Michael Carrick who’s arguably been our best player in the latter stages of the Champions League, but I’d pick the energy of those three over the cool passing ability of the former Spurs’ midfielder.
Although Park is more suited to going forward than he is any defensive duties, he does have a tenacious quality that would be useful not just against Messi but also the likes of Iniesta and Xavi.
Some would argue that Anderson could do a job especially after his goal spree last night, but for me the Brazilian still represents a massive gamble in a game of this magnitude.
Desperate times require desperate solutions and while my idea is obviously far from perfect I just feel it may be energy and the ability to get stuck in -without needless fouls- that could give United the best chance of coping with the world’s greatest player. I’m not saying Park should be left to mark Messi alone, but with Fletcher in front of the defence and Rooney doing his bit in the middle, plus Vidic and Rio tracking any runs, if the spaces are tight enough, it could be an answer.
Am I chatting the sort of nonsense that would make Alan Green blush or is there a modicum of insight in my insanity? Feel free to comment or abuse below.
Read more of Justin’s articles at the excellent Red Flag Flying High