Thursday, May 26, 2011

United's Messi plan: Is "collective responsibility" the answer? Oh for a Nobby Stiles...

United odds Champions League final

"Manchester United's Messi Plan": It sounds like a tabloid newspaper headline. The club's supporters will be hoping the word "backfires" is not tagged onto the end of it on Sunday's back pages following the Champions League final with Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday night. It will be Manchester United's third final in four years, that in itself is quite remarkable.

United have pretty much been written off by neutral pundits such as Gary Lineker who says "It is Barca's to lose", which is a polite way of saying "United will be lucky to avoid a good stuffing". Let's be honest, many gloating neutrals are hoping for that outcome - some United fans will be fearing the same, because Barcelona have been nothing short of sensational over the last two seasons.

Even Fergie has admitted that Barca have improved since the two teams last met in the final and of course at the same time United have lost Ronaldo and Tevez.

To use boxing parlance United have a 'punchers chance'. United must take full advantage of any chances that come our way.

United are as good as the Catalans when it comes to finishing; the newly crowned English champions are arguably more than their match in defence, but in the engine room it is an entirely different story... United's midfield isn't what it used to be. As good as they have been, Fergie has relied on veteran's Giggs and Scholes for too long. There will be no place in the starting eleven for Scholes and the final could yet prove to be his last game.

It is difficult to see how United can live with Barca in midfield and the danger is the back four will be over-run. Earlier this week, Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson were both asked if they had a plan for dealing with Messi aka "the Flea", Fergie replied, yes, "there is always a plan". Ferdinand says that it will be down to collective responsibility and truth be told that is the only plan because, not since the days of Nobby Stiles has the club had a specialist man-to-man marker.

United's midfield must not allow Messi to run at the back four unchallenged, because if they do, that will surely lead to calamity, panic and in all probability goals.

If there is a ray of hope, it is that Barca have injury concerns at the back and Javier Mascherano could well partner Piquet in the absence of Carles Puyol.

It will also be Edwin van der Sar's last game and how fitting it would be if he was the hero..

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  1. I'm rather worried about the match to be honest.

    "Can the team collectively handle Messi?" is not the right question.

    I think the question we should be asking is:

    "How can we keep the ball from Messi, if our midfield keeps giving it away in the first place?"

    All it takes is one misplaced pass to Xavi and co, and we'd be done for.

    Giggs and Carrick will need to bring their A-game, and the latter needs to speed up his tempo to support Valencia, Rooney, and Chicharito in what will likely be a counter-attacking style. Don't get me started on Fletcher's passing, I hope he doesn't start.

    If Park plays, I'm hoping he will play a bit narrower when they have the ball.

    From United's point of view, if Valencia wins his battles with Abidal, it could be key. But we really need to get the ball safely to him in that wide right position first.

    To conclude, I'd take penalties now if it were offered.

  2. Anon,

    Me too, I'm very worried actually. United don't do negative football... and so keeping the ball away from Messi is something of a forlorn hope. I'm not over confident.

    But whatever happens on the night, I don't want to see a repitition of two years ago when we collectively froze after going a goal behind. I want to see that famous United spirit for 90 mins (and more if needs be).

  3. Every single member of the playing squad will have to be on top of their game to win this one. If we can absorb for sixty minutes, then hit them hard in the last third of the match then the cup could come home.

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