“I would love the chance to redress the situation with Barcelona. Absolutely. I would love another final with them; you don’t like losing finals of European games. It was the first one I have lost so it was really disappointing for everyone.” The words of Sir Alex Ferguson earlier this season, before a Champions League match against Besiktas. Several months on and Manchester United find themselves at the quarter final stage of the competition, and the only way they can meet Barcelona is in the final- how Ferguson would relish that opportunity.
A look back on last year’s final would suggest that the disappointment in losing to Barcelona, in Rome, was to do with the lack of performance from his team as much as it was Barcelona’s superiority on that day. United had selection problems, such is the influence of Darren Fletcher and the fact that he was suspended, that Ferguson still refers to it now. The opening 10 minutes aside, United were well beaten and the ins and outs of that United-Barca game reveal that playing Barca at their own game ended up as United’s downfall. Both like to play free flowing, attacking football but the chances are that should they meet again in the final then Ferguson’s tactics and formation will be different. He tried using the same system in that final as he did in expertly beating Arsenal in the semi-final. Clearly that was one of his rare mistakes but he will want to prove to any doubters he may have that a chance to play Barca again will mean different personnel with a different, if not drastic, style of play. Also, meeting them in a final would give Ferguson a chance to show that they can be beaten in a one-off game because United’s previous victory against them came in a two-legged affair.
If last year’s final was the ideal final, the people’s final, then there is no reason to suggest that a repeat would not be just as eagerly anticipated- but this time aided by arguably the two best players in the world in Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi. Ferguson will want Rooney to show that he can take the centre stage in a match that could potentially define who is the better player out of the two. Such is Messi’s class that he will undoubtedly cause problems but the issue for Ferguson will be stopping that threat and unleashing Rooney in to the game with the same effect the Argentine had last year. As much as the final of any match in any competition is not about two players, the United boss will be keen to show Barca that there are players in his team who can hurt them aside from Rooney. If a Rooney-Messi part-2 battle were to happen then it would give United the opportunity to show that they have not developed a weakness where for once where they were the underdogs and the way it seemed like they were playing in their first ever final.
There is a notion in football at the moment that Barcelona are too good and that sort of stance brings out the best in Fergie. Whilst his counterpart, Pep Guardiola, is a bright and young manager it is obvious that should United get to the final then there is every chance of it being the Scotsman’s last ever experience of trying to win the Champions League. He would love to show that the old master still rules. He would see this as a chance to establish some authority in European football- reaching Madrid on the 22nd of May for the final would be the third consecutive season in which they would appear in it. Should they win it then it would be United’s fourth European crown and that would put them one above Barcelona.
With it seemingly being accepted that Barcelona are the team to beat if you are to win the Champions League this season then it will bring out that extra edge in Ferguson that is normally reserved for big occasions. Having brushed aside an ageing AC Milan team, and what looks like the easiest route to the final (if you can say such a thing), then a meeting Barcelona (who have a tougher test in getting to Madrid) would be a case of save the best until last. Ferguson knows that there is no way United can play as poorly as they did in last year’s final, therefore a repeat of that match would be a desire of Ferguson’s- except with a different outcome.
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